A new antibiotic has been found in the ‘arms race’ against incurable superbugs.
The drug is a new weapon in the fight against a strain of ‘super-gonorrhoea’ similar to that which swept across London, the South East and Midlands last year.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has written to GPs warning that gonorrhoea, Britain’s second most common STI after chlamydia, could become an ‘untreatable disease’.
But the bug, some strains of which are now resistant to every hospital antibiotic, was defeated by British scientists using the antibiotic closthioamide.
While still at least five years away from being available to patients, closthioamide cured 98 per cent of gonorrhoea samples taken from British patients.
The antibiotic, only discovered seven years ago, has also been found to tackle hospital superbug MRSA and deadly E.coli and could go on to be tested against other bacteria, including drug-resistant TB.
Brand new drug closthioamide could help in the fight against untreatable superbugs including super gonorrhoea (file photo)
Co-author Dr John Heap, from Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences, said: ‘The imminent threat of untreatable antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases, including gonorrhoea, is a global problem, for which we urgently need new antibiotics.
‘This new finding might help us take the lead in the arms race against antimicrobial resistance.’
He added: ‘We are still finding new classes of antibiotics but there are far fewer emerging in recent years than in the golden age of the 1950s, when many of the drugs handed out by GPs were discovered.
‘Familiar antibiotics like penicillin have saved many lives, but are now much less effective because many bacteria have become resistant.
‘With this continuing to occur, new antibiotics are urgently needed, and the finding that closthioamide is effective is very exciting.’
Superbugs: One of the biggest health issues
More than 35,000 people a year are infected with gonorrhoea in England, including record numbers of baby boomers, it was warned recently. But last year saw a ‘super’ version of the sexually transmitted infection sweep across Britain.
Resistant to common antibiotic ciprofloxacin, and extended-spectrum cephalosporins, which are the drugs of last resort, the superbug is one of many antibiotic-resistant infections which together kill an estimated 700,000 people worldwide each year.
The researchers tested 149 samples of gonorrhoea from hospital patients in London and the South East, finding very low amounts were effective against all but three.
The antibiotic also worked against all samples provided by the World Health Organisation which were known to be resistant to other antibiotics.
Lead author Dr Victoria Miari, from the London School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Antibiotic resistance, combined with the reduction of drug development, is one of the biggest health issues facing the world today.
‘The problem threatens to render many human and animal infections untreatable, including gonorrhoea. With no effective vaccine available, new antibiotics are urgently needed to tackle this infection which, left untreated, can have very serious consequences.’
ORAL SEX IS SPREADING SUPER GONORRHOEA
Oral sex is causing the spread of a dangerous gonorrhoea superbug, experts have warned.
The untreatable strain of gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the world putting millions of lives at risk, the World Health Organisation has warned.
Experts said that incurable gonorrhoea has started to spread after becoming resistant to antibiotics, which has been partly caused by oral sex and a decline in condom use.
The sexually transmitted bacteria can live at the back of the throat and, because of this, has been evolve immunity to antibiotics used to treat common throat infections.
The WHO issued a warning after it confirmed that three people had contracted the superbug.
Never seen before drug
Closthioamide was a lucky discovery by researchers trying to stimulate harmless bacteria to provide useful treatments. When they added ordinary soil to the bacteria, they came up with the antibiotic – a type of drug never seen before.
It is thought to work by blocking the action of certain enzymes that maintain DNA inside bacterial cells.
The results of the study, published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, strike a significant blow against the ‘super-strain’ N. gonorrhoea.
The STI, left untreated, can make men and women infertile and damage the sight of babies when passed on by a mother during childbirth.
Dr Claudia Estcourt, of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, said: ‘To have something at this stage that is showing very early promise in the laboratory is very exciting – and possibly the best news we’ve had for a long time – however there are many compounds that may produce early, exciting results across the spectrum of infectious disease but never reach usability in humans.’
Now it is also the next big hope for other untreatable infections which saw Dame Sally Davies warn earlier this year that we are on the brink of a ‘post-antibiotic era’.
Dr Miari said: ‘The results of our initial laboratory studies show that closthioamide has the potential to combat N. gonorrhoea. Further research is needed, but its potential to successfully tackle this infection, as well as other bacteria, cannot be underestimated.’