New drug targets ‘nightmare bacteria’ found in UTIs

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Researchers have unveiled a new weapon in the fight against superbugs with the development of an antibiotic to treat life-threatening urinary tract infections.

Drug-resistant UTIs are a growing problem, with a recent Public Health England analysis of more than a million samples showing that a third were resistant to a previously commonly used antibiotic, trimethoprin.

Now, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of the antibiotic plazomicin to treat the most complex UTIs.

The drug is effective against some of the hardest to treat infections, including what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dubbed “nightmare bacteria” – carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae.

The drug, developed by United States biotech Achaogen with £8.1m worth of funding from the UK’s Wellcome Trust, is administered in a once daily infusion to patients with complicated UTIs and for whom there is no other treatment.

An estimated three million cases of complicated UTIs are treated in US hospitals every year, with Enterobacteriaceae the most common pathogens behind them. Resistance in these bacteria is a global concern.

Plazomicin is not a new class of antibiotic but has been developed to treat infections caused by drug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae: a Gram-negative bacteria identified by the World Health Organization as one of the three superbugs that are most difficult to treat.

The Wellcome Trust warns that no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since 1980 and no new class of antibiotic to treat Gram-negative bacteria has been discovered since 1962.

Dr Tim Jinks, head of Wellcome’s Drug-Resistant Infections Programme said the drug was a “vital last-resort” treatment.

“Developing new treatments is a key part of the global effort against superbugs – but it is complex, costly and challenging. It has taken more than a decade to get this medicine from a promising laboratory discovery to a safe, approved medicine for patients.

“Wellcome’s support for plazomicin’s development is part of our wider, ongoing programme to address this urgent global health problem. This includes working with governments and industry to progress long-term solutions to fix the precariously weak antibiotic pipeline,” he said.

The company will seek approval for the drug from the European Medicines Agency later this year.

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