Doctors have been praying for years for a new active ingredient in antibiotics that would be able to kill all the powerful and resistant bacteria like MRSA and TB. In fact, it has already been 25 years since the last antibiotic was released to the general public and, to be honest, people had started to become less and less satisfied with the effectiveness of their medication. It is no surprise that there is growing resentment to chemically formulated pharmaceuticals and a growing turn to natural remedies.
But only recently and quite by accident (as is almost always the case with major discoveries like penicillin) a multinational group of researchers stumbled upon a substance that they named teixobactin. And where did they find it? Just lurking in the ground of a grassy field in Maine, U.S.A.
The premise of the research was that in nature bacteria and fungi create natural antibiotics themselves, as a defense mechanism against competitors for food and space. This was a result of a decision to get back to the basics of research, after this train of thought was abandoned in favor of more high-tech solutions. 10.000 different sorts of bacteria were grown on this part of the soil. Only 25 proved worthy of further studies for antibiotics. And one of these 25 was teixobactin.
So far, the substance has been tested on mice and proven effective against:
- the deadly C diff stomach bug
- germs that damage the heart
- the TB causing agents where it actually raises the probability of treatment with one single medicine instead of the cocktail that is used today
- the MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), or otherwise known as ORSA (oxacillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a hospital superbug
Important features that surfaced during this research are that teixobactin seems to work without side-effects, and that the attempts made by a drug company named Selcia to create bacteria that would be resistant to it were unsuccessful. According to the Selcia researchers, the way the substance works makes it difficult for bacteria to find a way to circumvent it.
Before this piece of discovery, scientists had begun to believe that the medical treatment would be dragged back to the 19th century because the disease causing agents were becoming harder to kill. It is a matter of fact that bugs that were easy to kill a few years ago became deadly again, finding sneaky ways to go around the existing medication.
As per Dame Salle Davies, the situation had resolved into an apocalyptic type of scenario where in about 20 years, even the most routine operations would become deadly because of the development of relatively minor infections that would be resistant to antibiotics. Already there is a failure factor of one in every seven cases of treatments. That spells a 12 percent rise in failures in a period of 20 years and a number of 25.000 deaths per year because of infections resistant to the current medication.
Two years of tests remain to prove the effectiveness of teixobactin and to refine the drug to its full potential. So far it has either eradicated completely, or worked exquisitely against every kind of bacteria it was tested against. Another three years after that will be required for clinical tests on people, in order to receive clearance by F.D.A., and by 2019 it is expected to be released to the general public and cover the needs for another 30 years, before bacteria develop a resistance to it as well.
This last statement is what produces the problem. Each antibiotic works for a certain period of time and then the organisms it is supposed to fight develop an immunity to it. Just like the cockroaches that develop immunities to insecticides and pass them on to their progeny. Researcher Kim Lewis believes that through the same process that uncovered the existence of teixobactin, more bugs that produce antibiotics can be discovered. Professor Laura Piddock takes the concept one step further, calling it a “game changer”.
But why is it necessary to constantly look for new ways to battle infectious organisms? Why is it that every 30 years or so scientists have to face human life threatening bacteria and germ crisis? The problem lies in the human’s need to dominate on nature. But nature is not so easy to defeat.
Apart from the problem that is inevitable to rise with any kind of drug overuse (it is only natural to prescribe an effective medicine where all the others fail), bacteria is a form of life. They are living organisms just like the human beings. And life always finds a way to maintain itself.
Probably no matter what scientists do, no matter what substances they discover, the cycle of life of bacteria will find a way to keep existing. Either through their immunity to antibiotics, or through their transformation to a different form, which may be even more dangerous to the humans. After penicillin was discovered, it is estimated that 100 million lives were saved. Supposedly, an ever bigger number may be saved by teixobactin. To many that number alone makes it worth the while. But one thing is certain.
Fighting fatal and infectious diseases will be an ongoing battle until the day that either the humans, or all other micro-organisms disappear from the face of the Earth. And that day is still hundreds of years ahead, and if it ever comes, it will mean that the balance of nature has been disrupted. And there is no telling where that will lead.