SEATTLE — Antibiotics resistance is a growing problem throughout the world, whether it be in developing countries, or in more developed countries such as the US. Currently, 23,000 people die from antimicrobial resistant bacteria every year, in the United States alone. Around the world, the number is likely to be much higher due to poorer treatment facilities.
Bacteria, when exposed long enough to a particular drug, become resistant to it, slowly making the medicine obsolete.
As a result of this fact, scientists need to use other drugs for treating bacterial infections which are also becoming obsolete. Thus, the medical community needs to invent drugs faster than bacteria can become resistant to them, which is currently not the case.
Two months ago, a new “super-drug” was discovered. This new molecule which is currently only known as vancomycin, has a long-predicted “lifetime,” before bacteria become resistant to it. This drug stems from the commonly prescribed antibiotic vancomycin; the new molecule is far more potent against bacterial infections.
This medication is more efficient than previously used ones because it works on three layers to dismantle bacterial cells.
Unlike other medicinal drugs which only have a single way to battle bacteria, for a bacterium will have to become resistant to this new variant, it will have to pass three different tests simultaneously.
However, what is the chance of this happening? Imagine having everyone in the world sit down every single day to write a 15-question multiple-choice test, for which no one knows the answers, and everyone is circling random As, Bs, Cs and Ds. It is clear most people will fail the test.
However, by probability alone, someone will eventually get all the answers right. Imagine now that this person gets told he passed with a score of 100% and is given the test sheet back. Of course, he memorizes the answers to pass the future tests, and begins teaching other people. Over time everyone in the class will be able to get a perfect score.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria use this same process when they breed. In this case, the newly produced bacteria are those students who pass surviving the onslaught of medicine. Now imagine the same thing, but with three tests per day. The chances of passing are now significantly lower.
When someone does finally pass all three, memorizing the answers will also be more difficult, which means that for any significant population to survive will take a very long time.
This process is how this new form of vancomycin functions. It has three distinct mechanisms that destroy bacteria.
With this new triple threat of a killer-molecule, the medical community will have significantly more time to battle the public health crisis. The start date for the “post-antibiotic era” may have been pushed back considerably. Scientists have been scrambling to bring new antibiotics to the market.
The 20th century marked a time in which many new drugs were discovered, whether by accident (such as penicillin), or through intensive lab work. Each one had a particular characteristic which allowed them to destroy bacteria. Over time, most of them have encountered bacteria which were resistant to themselves causing untreatable infections.
The number of bacteria that have the capability to resist was much lower in the past but now has a much greater number.
A long-term solution would be to stop antibiotics all-together, but this would possibly lead to mass-starvation. Eighty percent of antibiotics are administered to animals to keep them healthy, so that we may consume their produce. Due to our reliance on drugs for the food supply to get maintained induces the need to create more drugs continuously.
In the next four or so years, vancomycin will be one of approximately 40 other antibiotics to be tested by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). If vancomycin gets given bright results after these tests, it will get patented and sold to the people who need it most.
– Michal Burgunder