A well-worn platitude maintains that the media never reports good news. Sadly, that is true to a degree: good news tends to be incremental and somewhat abstract, whereas our primate brains are hardwired to pay closer attention to scary stuff. All of which is a roundabout way to say that today’s post features tremendously good news! (I guess I’ll leave stupid CNN to fool you into clicking on their overly frightening tomfoolery—and to thereby collect all of the internet’s advertising dollars).
Anyway…on to the good news: researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts have discovered the first major new class of antibiotics in three decades. Effective new medicines are always precious and amazing, but this discovery takes on particular significance due to the fact that rampant overuse of antibiotics has created a legitimately frightening worldwide health crisis. I blogged about this emergency earlier but the basic idea is that we have overprescribed antibiotics, and used them in our crammed factory farms to such an extent that bacteria are evolving wholesale resistance to them. Worst of all, marketers have added some of our most effective antibacterial compounds to ordinary cleaners as a sales gimmick-thereby undermining the utility of these life-saving chemicals.
The new antibiotic has been christened as Teixobactin. It was discovered in a Gram-negative soil bacterium known as Eleftheria terrae. The bacteria does not grow easily (or at all) in laboratories so it was grown in situ in a new microscopically engineered bacterium culture device—the “ichip.” Teixobactin blocks a particular peptide (a protein-like molecule) which Gram positive bacteria such as Staphylococcus require for building cell walls. In preliminary trials, certain aggressive highly protean pathogens like Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus were unable to develop resistance to Teixobactin.
Hopefully you will have noticed that the new antibiotics were not discovered by Merck or Lily or some other giant conglomerate but instead by a university. Further research reveals that Northeastern was heavily supported by the National Institute of Health and analogous German research agencies (and the University of Bonn). A privately held company founded by the professors who created the ichip will hold patents on any pharmaceutical compounds thereby discovered. It is an interesting amalgamation of public and private (and international) funding and study. It should be of particular interest to obnoxious talking heads and politicos who always advocate pure-market solutions.