Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that the anti-biofilm peptide works on a range of bacteria including many that cannot be treated by antibiotics.
"Currently there is a severe problem with antibiotic-resistant organisms," said Bob Hancock, a professor in UBC's Dept of Microbiology and Immunology and lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
"Our entire arsenal of antibiotics is gradually losing effectiveness," Hancock said.
Many bacteria that grow on skin, lung, heart and other human tissue surfaces form biofilms, highly structured communities of bacteria that are responsible for two-thirds of all human infections.
There are currently no approved treatments for biofilm infections and bacteria in biofilms are considerably more resistant to standard antibiotics.
Hancock and his colleagues found that the peptide known as 1018 - consisting of just 12 amino acids, the building blocks of protein - destroyed biofilms and prevented them from forming.
Bacteria are generally separated into two classes, Gram-positives and Gram-negatives, and the differences in their cell wall structures make them susceptible to different antibiotics.
The peptide 1018 worked on both classes of bacteria as well as several major antibiotic-resistant pathogens, including E coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and MRSA.
"Antibiotics are the most successful medicine on the planet. The lack of effective antibiotics would lead to profound difficulties with major surgeries, some chemotherapy treatments, transplants, and even minor injuries," said Hancock.
"Our strategy represents a significant advance in the search for new agents that specifically target bacterial biofilms," he said.