UK research offers hope for new ways to tackle ‘superbugs’

Scientists in Sheffield and Liverpool say they have made significant breakthroughs in tackling gram-negative bacteria, which can cause serious infections but are rapidly becoming immune to current drugs.

“This breakthrough could lead to vital new treatments to life-threatening superbugs”

Jim Thomas

A new compound discovered by scientists at the University of Sheffield, and national research facility Rutherford Research Laboratory (RAL), has been shown to kill gram-negative bacteria, including E coli, during tests.

Those behind the research, published in the journal ACS Nano, said it could pave the way for new treatment.

The drug compound has a range of exciting opportunities, according to Professor Jim Thomas from the University of Sheffield’s department of chemistry.

“As the compound is luminescent, it glows when exposed to light. This means the uptake and effect on bacteria can be followed by the advanced microscope techniques available at RAL,” he said.

“This breakthrough could lead to vital new treatments to life-threatening superbugs and the growing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance,” he added.

The studies at Sheffield and RAL have shown the compound seems to have several ways of working, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance.

The next step will be to test it against other multi-resistant bacteria.

Meanwhile, a new study by a University of Liverpool-led consortium has helped develop another new treatment option for gram-negative bacteria.

The research, published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, explored the use of a new type of antibiotic that could be used to treat severe infections.

The drug – developed by Spero Therapeutics – is a new type of carbapenem, a class of highly effective antibiotic usually administered by IV injection, requiring hospital admission.

However, tebipenem pivoxil hydrobromide is being developed as an oral medication, which could enable patients to be discharged from hospital sooner or allow complex infections to be treated in the community, said researchers.

The consortium, led by Professor William Hope from the University of Liverpool, used advanced modelling techniques to identify the appropriate dose of the drug to study in a trial with patients with complex urinary tract infections.

The clinical trial, which will take place across a number of different countries, is currently recruiting participants.

The use of advanced modelling is designed to maximise the chance that the right dose is studied the first time and ensure patients benefit from new antibiotics sooner.