New Irish antibiotic blueprint could delay post-antibiotic era

18 Feb 2016

With panic setting in over the potential catastrophe to modern medicine of a post-antibiotic era, a team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has published a blueprint for a potential future antibiotic candidate.

Our decades-long overuse of antibiotics has led to the inevitability of a, frankly, frightening future for the human race, as last year it was confirmed that the first bacteria strain to show a resistance to all antibiotics was out there, heralding the dawn of the post-antibiotic era.

What this means for you and me is a likely scenario where something we treat as easily survivable, like appendicitis, becomes an untreatable condition due to the lack of effective antibiotics.

Future Human

With antibiotic research completely evaporating among the pharmaceutical industry over the last two decades because it was simply not profitable, it is now up to smaller research teams to come up with potential candidates to, quite literally, ‘save the world’.

One such Irish attempt comes from TCD, where scientists at the college have put forward a blueprint for one antibiotic candidate, a crystal-clear molecular structure called Globomycin.

The potential use of Globomycin as an antibiotic candidate was first mooted over a decade ago, because it was found to inhibit a key enzyme called LspA that produces many cell wall proteins with critical roles in a bacteria’s physiology, pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics TCD

The antibiotic, globomycin, shuts down lipoprotein maturation by blocking the active site of the processing enzyme, LspA. Image via Martin Caffrey/TCD

However, having fallen to the wayside of scientific research, the Irish Globomycin blueprint for such an antibiotic has now been published in Science.

The research team has also suggested that, if developed, the blueprint could be used to create a whole new range of different drugs that target the enzyme’s active site in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Speaking of the blueprint, TCD’s professor of membrane structural and functional biology, Martin Caffrey, said: “What is especially exciting is that the blueprint makes it hard to conceive bacteria developing resistance to Globomycin or newly-developed analogues.

Globomycin and its enzyme target are networked to such a degree that any mutation perturbing the drug’s interaction would also likely impact on how the bacteria functions. Antibiotics that do not elicit resistance are invaluable to medicine, and this work might inspire the design of such drugs.”

Antibiotic pills image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic