Superbug breakthrough made in antibiotic-resistant pathogen that could kill 10 million

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The international team from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity were able to figure out how to repurpose a molecule called PBT2 and use it to break bacterial resistance to commonly used frontline antibiotics. ​​The PBT2 molecule was originally developed as a potential treatment for disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organisation have both warned that superbugs, or pathogens that have built up immunity against the usual antibiotics, are poised to be responsible for 10 million deaths over the next few decades.

Speaking to, Professor Christopher McDevitt, the leader of this research said: “Antibiotic-resistant pathogens represents one of the foremost threats to health in the 21st century.

“Without new solutions, infectious diseases are predicted to cause more than 10 million deaths a year by 2050, with an annual economic impact exceeding $US100 trillion due to disruptions in workforce productivity, global trade, and increased healthcare costs.

“Our work shows how we can rescue frontline antibiotics and restore their efficacy to treat drug-resistant infections without leading to further resistance.

“Essentially, this approach has the potential to put the genie of drug resistance back in the bottle.”

In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health, food security, and development.

Rising numbers of bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis have resulted in doctors finding it much more difficult to treat these diseases as the antibiotics used against them are becoming less effective.

This breakthrough may see the return of readily available and cheap antibiotics, such as penicillin and ampicillin, as effective weapons in the fight against the rapidly rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

Professor McDevitt’s previous research into bacterial antibiotic resistance using zinc ionophores led to collaborations with University of Queensland’s Professor Mark Walker and Griffith University’s Professor Mark von Itzstein from the Institute for Glycomics, according to a statement from the University of Melbourne.

Professor von Itzstein said: “We knew that some ionophores, such as PBT2, had been through clinical trials and shown to be safe for use in humans.”

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Professor Walker said: “As a group, we realised that if we could repurpose these safe molecules to break bacterial resistance and restore antibiotic efficacy, this would be a pathway to a therapeutic treatment.

“What we had to do was show whether PBT2 broke bacterial resistance to antibiotic treatment without leading to even greater drug resistance.”
Professor McDevitt added: “We focused on bacterial pneumonia and the most commonly used antibiotics.

“We thought that if we could rescue frontline antibiotics and restore their use for treating common infections, this would solve a global problem.”

Professor von Itzstein noted that this discovery has the potential to provide a cost-effective and readily available treatment to deadly infections such as bacterial pneumonia, which poses a serious public health risk.

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