There may yet be hope in the fight against growing antibiotic resistance—while antibiotic efficacy has fallen as pathogens are increasingly developing resistance, antibiotic discovery has slowed in the last few decades, thanks to drugmakers shifting their focus to developing pharma products geared for managing chronic diseases, most of which are either genetic or lifestyle diseases. Researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York have discovered a new class of antibiotics, which they have named malacidins, which can be extracted from soil bacteria that are notoriously difficult to culture in labs and study. The findings of the research, published in Nature Microbiology, are encouraging. The new antibiotics fought off many common infections in lab and mice tests, eliminating some microbes that have become resistant to existing antibiotics. The researchers used genetic sequencing and combed through genetic material from 1,500 soil samples to identify and isolate the new antibiotics.
Extracting DNA directly from the soil, the researchers then encoded it in microbes that are easy to culture in labs. Actual molecules—on the basis of the new antibiotics class—are yet to be developed but lab tests showed that malacidins interfered with the ability of bacterial to form the cell-wall. Given how rudimentary a function of cellular life this is, it is likely that very few microbes will be able to resist the new antibiotics. In fact, in lab tests, bacteria were exposed to malacidins for 21 days without developing any resistance. The new compound has proven to be safe, so far, in mice tests, but human trials could be some years away. About 48 new antibiotics are undergoing clinical trials at the moment—thanks to a revival of interest in them amongst drugmakers in the last couple of years—but going by past approval trends, only a handful may reach the market eventually. Even so, most of these can’t fight drug-resistant infections. This is where malacidins score.