Scientists travel to the farthest reaches of the planet to find new ways to fight infections, but an antibiotic pulled from dirt in Maine might be the biggest breakthrough in the field in the last 25 years.
The experimental drug, called teixobactin, was found in a grassy field and was developed using new technology that mimics natural habitats. It hasn’t yet been tested in humans but has demonstrated remarkable effects in mice. It cured all of the mice in the test that were infected with antibiotic-resistant staphylococci bacteria, commonly known as a staph infection.
Tanja Schneider, a lead author of the study published in the journal Nature and professor at the University of Bonn in Germany, explained that the antibiotic strikes multiple targets, including cell walls. Since the lipid structures it attacks don’t evolve as quickly as frequently mutating proteins, it may take the bacteria longer than usual to develop a survival tactic.
Daptomycin, the last major viable antibiotic, was discovered in the 1980s, but was not approved for sale until 2003. So it may be years before teixobactin has widespread use. But scientists are hopeful that the process will be faster and less costly than past antibiotic trials.
“We’ve been seeing very high numbers for introducing the drug, between $1 billion to $2 billion, but part of that calculation takes into account the cost of failure,” said Kim Lewis, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, in a press briefing. “In this case we have not been spending a lot of money so far and I think it will be in the low hundreds of millions to develop.”
A U.K. government study estimated that 700,000 people die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They estimate it could lead to 10 million more deaths by 2050, which might encourage an expedited approval process.