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Canadian scientists develop first new antibiotic in 30 years, but approval still years away

CTVNews.ca Staff

Published Thursday, April 20, 2017 7:00AM EDT

Last Updated Thursday, April 20, 2017 10:28AM EDT

Canadian scientists say they have discovered the first new antibiotic in three decades, and that their research suggests it may be effective at killing two of the most worrisome superbugs.

The drug is called PEG-2S and it works by inhibiting a sodium pump called NQR that at least 20 different types of bacteria need for respiration, according to researchers from the St. Boniface Hospital and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

The new antibiotic, which still needs to be tested in clinical trials and is years away from being available to the public, is expected to work on at least two of the 10 “priority pathogens” the World Health Organization said are of utmost concern: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is often acquired by people with weakened immune systems in hospitals. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is responsible for gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease in which 30 per cent of new infections are now drug resistant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Grant Pierce, executive director of research at St. Boniface Hospital and a professor at the University of Manitoba, said that PEG-2S is designed to attack bad bacteria without affecting healthy human cells.

“Most of the antibiotics out there today are hitting one of three targets on the bacteria — the cell wall, or the protein synthesis or the DNA replication,” Pierce told CTV News.

But the new drug attacks something else, the NQR pump which influences the energy of the bacteria. 

“So it’s a breakthrough in that it’s attacking a completely different target,” he said.

Pavel Dibrov, a professor at the University of Manitoba and lead author of the new research paper, calls the results “tremendously exciting” and said researchers are currently developing variations of the drug that could kill multiple different types of bacteria.

The researchers note that no new antibiotics have been discovered since 1987.

The World Health Organization has identified multi-drug resistant bacteria as one of the greatest threats to the world population today, Pierce said.

“It is predicted that by about 2030, all of the antibiotics that we use today to treat bacteria and bacterial infections will no longer be effective,” he said.

Pierce said the development of PEG-2S is “novel and exciting,” although it’s still in the laboratory stage.

The next steps in the antibiotic’s development include animal testing, followed by clinical trials in humans, Pierce said.  The drug will also need to be approved by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pierce estimates that it could take…

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