Scientists discover powerful antibiotic that can cure tuberculosis

Scientists using a revolutionary approach have devised an antibiotic that may offset the mounting problem of drug resistance for decades, they said.

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Tested on lab mice -- it could take five or six years to be authorised for humans -- the drug could open a new front in the war on bacterial disease, the team reported in the journal Nature. Called teixobactin, it hails from a new tool to screen for soil bacteria that exude natural antibiotic compounds. In lab dish experiments, teixobactin killed resistant strains of tuberculosis and Staphylococcus -- a source of skin, blood and lung infection -- as well as anthrax and Clostridium difficile, a cause of diarrhoea.

It also cured mice infected with high doses of a superbug strain of Staphylococcus aureus. Teixobactin performed as well as vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic generally used as a last resort against bacteria that can't be treated with first-line drugs but which has itself also started encountering resistance.

The mice showed no side effects, the authors said. If all goes well, the new medicine "will be in clinical trials two years from now," said Kim Lewis of Northeastern
University in Boston, Massachusetts, who is also a consultant for a pharma company, Novobiotic, which funded the research. The drug works by binding to fatty molecules that are the building blocks for bacterial cell walls.

The binding point is "highly conserved," meaning it is less prone to mutation -- the evolutionary process that drives drug resistance.

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