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expert reaction to study looking at a new group of antibiotics tested in mice

Research, published in Nature, reports on a new group of antibiotics tested in mice.


Prof Jodi Lindsay, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, St George’s, University of London (SGUL), said:

“The study has identified a new antibiotic that can inhibit important antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA.  MRSA infections are treated or prevented using the drugs of last resort, glycopeptides.  The new antibiotic, corbomycin, is a type of glycopeptide that works differently to the current drugs and escapes current resistance mechanisms.  It stops bacteria from replicating themselves by preventing their solid cell walls from expanding.  In a model of superficial skin infection with MRSA in mice with compromised immune systems, corbomycin showed potential as an antibiotic for use on the skin. 

“At this stage, it is unclear whether corbomycin has potential to be modified to produce an antibiotic that is effective as a pill or injection for internal infection.  It is also unclear whether the bacteria might easily become resistant to this antibiotic.  The next steps in developing the new antibiotic for market are to improve the formulation, ensure safety in humans, and then perform clinical trials.  These steps are expensive and time consuming and require investment from industry and/or governments, and most new antibiotics fail this hurdle.“


Dr Andrew Edwards, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London:

“In this work, the researchers studied a family of bacteria that are known for their ability to produce antibiotics. Using DNA sequencing, they were able to identify and study the genetic recipe books for making new antibiotics. This revealed a new type of antibiotic which works in a different way from any other drugs. This is an exciting development, both in terms of the approach used to discover the antibiotic, as well as the antibiotic itself.

“The new antibiotic has activity against several problematic bacteria including MRSA. Interestingly, it also has activity against the bacterium that causes gonorrhoea, which is frequently resistant to antibiotics. Unfortunately, it appears not to be active against bacteria such as E. coli, which cause more than 30,000 cases of bloodstream infection each year in the UK and are associated with resistance to many different antibiotics.

“Furthermore, whilst this is an important step forward, there is a long and difficult road to generating an antibiotic that can be used in the clinic. Many new antibiotics fail clinical trials because they are found to be too toxic or not sufficiently effective when given to humans.”


Dr Claas Kirchhelle, Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Diseases and Lecturer of the History of Medicine, University College Dublin, said:

“Both the discovery of a novel mode of antibiotic action and the new method of antibiotic screening are great news. However, similar to the announcement of other novel modes of antibiotic action over recent years, we will have to wait and see whether this discovery actually makes it to market: of the many 1000s of promising new pharmaceutical compounds discovered or developed each year only very few actually get licensed after many years of further development and testing.” 


Prof Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said:

“The study is a promising approach to discovering new antibiotics against MRSA and possibly other bacteria. However, as this new group of antibiotics have only been tested in mice, there is still a long way to go before this could be a product as there will be considerations of costs and testing for toxicity and efficacy in humans.”


Evolution-guided discovery of antibiotics that inhibit peptidoglycan remodelling’ by Culp et al. was published in Nature at 18:00 UK time on Wednesday 12 February. 

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-1990-9


Declared interests

Prof Lindsay: “No conflict”

None others received. 


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