Researchers in Ireland believe they may have found a solution to the antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" that are increasingly stumping doctors: superdrugs.
Over the past few months, the Centers for Disease Control and other medical experts have warned that bacteria such as gonorrhea and staph are growing increasingly resistant to doctors' best antibiotics.
With no new drugs in the pipeline, the specter of untreatable bacterial illnesses was beginning to look like a certainty. But researchers at University College Dublin believe that by augmenting existing antibiotics with "adjuvant compounds,"—unrelated chemicals that can be added to the antibiotic — they can increase the antibiotic's effectiveness by six-fold.
"We are enhancing the activity of antibiotics we already have," says Marta Martins, one of the researchers working on the problem. "We've found that these commercially-available compounds can resuscitate the effectiveness of antibiotics."
The group's early returns are promising. Although Martins would not speculate on a timeline for these "enhanced" drugs becoming available, she says that in a test tube, the augmented antibiotics have worked well.
"We've had very good results in reverting resistance," she says. The drugs could theoretically be combined into a single pill or liquid, which means administering the antibiotics to patients wouldn't change.
Before trying human studies, the group needs to research the toxicity of the drugs when used in combination. "There are safety issues that have to be addressed first," says Martins. Our main goal is to develop the approach, and then take it from there."
Bacteria theoretically couldn't develop a resistance to these enhanced antibiotics, because the compounds being used are chemically different than antibiotics.
"We know that bacteria adapt and adjust quickly and mutate quickly," she says. "Our thinking is to use something different—we use compounds that are not antibiotics so we can avoid the development of new resistances."