Over the past decade, the problem of deadly, drug-resistant superbugs has become a global crisis, outpacing new countermeasures and threatening to bring patient care back to beginning of the 20th century. These bugs are now responsible for 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses a year in the United States alone. Last year, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the possibility of a coming medical "dark age."
There is finally some hope that we'll be able to stop the infections before things get worse.
Scientists from a Dutch biotech company called Micreos reported Wednesday at a conference on antibiotics alternatives that a new type of treatment had been effective at curing five out of six patients whose skin had been infected with MRSA or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus -- one of the scariest bugs around because it appears to shrug off even the most powerful antibiotics available. The initial trial was small and limited to those with eczema, contact dermatitis and other skin infections but the company said it is beginning clinical trials for other types of infections.
Antibiotics work by getting inside bacteria, but in recent years many bacteria that cause common illnesses such as tuberculosis or salmonella have mutated to have thicker membranes that stop the medicine from getting inside.
The new drug -- which the company has dubbed Staphefket -- works from the outside by latching on to the outer cell wall of bacteria. It uses an enzyme known as endolysins to degrade the wall and thereby kill the bacteria. Scientists theorize that bacteria will be less able to evolve to protect themselves against this type of attack because endolysins tend to evolve with their hosts. They are also believed to have another advantage over antibiotics: They can be targeted to only kill specific types of bacteria while antibiotics tend to kill a whole spectrum of them -- both good and bad for the body.
Micreos said in May that it had tested the drug against 36 strains of bacteria, eight of them MRSA.
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in September issued a long-awaited report on the matter warning that antibiotic resistance threatens to undue all the progress we've made in the past century in terms of controlling infectious diseases.