Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have created a compound that makes existing antibiotics up to 16 times more effective against antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” In a recent paper published in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, the team of chemists describe a compound that, when used in conjunction with the antibiotic imipenem, increased the antibiotic’s effectiveness against the antibiotic-resistant K. pneumoniae 16-fold.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Jimmy V Foundation and conducted by chemists Dr. Roberta Worthington, Dr. Christian Melander, Cynthia Bunders, and Catherine Reed.
“Superbugs” are actually bacterial strains that produce an enzyme known as New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase (NDM-1). Bacteria that produce this enzyme are practically impervious to antibiotics because NDM-1renders certain antibiotics unable to bind with their bacterial targets. Since NDM-1 is found in Gram-negative bacteria like K. pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia, urinary tract, and other common hospital-acquired infections, it is of particular concern.
“To begin with, there are fewer antibiotic options for treating infections caused by Gram-negative bacteria than for those caused by Gram-positive bacteria,” says Worthington. “Gram-negative bacteria with the NDM-1 enzyme effectively neutralize the few weapons we have in our arsenal, making them especially difficult, if not impossible, to treat with existing antibiotic therapy.”
“We’ve demonstrated that we have the ability to take out the scariest superbug out there,” Melander says. “Hopefully further research will allow us to make the compound even more effective, and make these infections little more than a nuisance.”