Antibiotic resistance is one of the most potentially deadly threats facing our society today. These seemingly innocuous pills have been doled out like sweets by doctors and pumped into cattle food by farmers, causing a worldwide rise in resistance to these drugs, with the result that the contraction of a bacterial infection that would previously have been cured in days, could be fatal.
St. Louis-based startup Viosera Therapeutics boasts a scientific team that is working to slow the rise of super bacteria by using three different antibiotics together.
This drug, called triple B-lactam and to be marketed as VT1, has been devised to cure MRSA, one of the most prevalent multi-drug resistant pathogens in the world, and it is 100% effective in vitro and in mouse MRSA models, according to Viosera’s study. The three clinically-approved antibiotics work synergistically, improving their individual effectiveness by working as a team.
A 2005 study by Japanese scientists have shown that multidrug combinations can be successful against other bacterial infections such as tuberculosis and this allows the patient to be treated faster, and at a lower cost and risk.
A drug with 100% effectiveness against MRSA could have a huge impact on the health system, Viosera explains. In the US alone, the disease infects 81,000 patients, leading to 11,000 deaths a year and representing $2 billion in healthcare costs. The three current therapies (vancomycin, daptomycin and televancin) have less than 50% clinical success, which waste time and money in hospitals.
Generally, when a patient develops a bacterial infection, they are administered a one-size-fits-all antibiotic, which in the past worked most of the time, business magazine Fortune explained. However, as more people become resistant, this antibiotic may be rendered useless, requiring another, more targeted antibiotic to be prescribed. In some cases, the bacteria within the patient may also be resistant to this antibiotic, and doctors and nurses struggle to find a more targeted antibiotic while the patient’s condition gets increasingly precarious.
Higher levels of drug resistance could send us back to a pre-antibiotic age, where a low-level infection could become lethal and wipe out whole communities. In the fight against such a dystopian future, Viosera is not the only company trying to save us from previously humdrum illnesses transforming into potentially fatal diseases.
Day Zero Diagnostics, a Boston-based startup, is developing a test that will identify the strain of bacteria causing the illness, which can be specific to each patient. This test uses whole-genome sequencing in combination with machine learning to identify the pathogen in hours, rather than the standard two days and will allow the doctor to choose the antibiotic best targeted for that specific bacteria. This not only speeds up the treatment time, but also reduces the likelihood of people becoming resistant, as the antibiotics used are much more varied and much more likely to work.
A French startup called Eligo is taking a different approach. They explained to Business Insider that antibiotics are like releasing a bomb in your body, killing all bacteria indiscriminately, and Eligo wants to create a supplement pill using CRISPR, the revolutionary new gene-editing technology that can selectively destroy the harmful bacteria.
“We use these little nanobots that have essentially been programmed to scan all of your DNA and seek and destroy specific sequences in bacteria,” Xavier Duportet told the magazine.
The future may seem bleak, but there are many companies out there using cutting-edge technology to combat the terrifying possibilities of a world where antibiotics cease to function.