The sledge­ham­mer ap­proach

Good Health Choices - - Be Informed -

Most re­cently, Dr Velkov and his col­leagues have iden­ti­fied an an­tibi­otic called oc­tapeptin that was first dis­cov­ered in soil bac­te­ria in the 1950s. Dr

Velkov be­lieves it can kill the type of hardy bac­te­ria that the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has iden­ti­fied as a key threat. These su­per­bugs have par­tic­u­larly thick cell walls, which in­creases their abil­ity to re­sist the ef­fects of an­tibi­otics.

“Oc­tapeptins just punch holes through them. They’re like tak­ing a sledge­ham­mer to the bac­te­ria’s cell walls, pop­ping them with sim­ple brute force,” ex­plains Dr Velkov.

Pre­vi­ously, oc­tapeptins were aban­doned be­cause al­though they de­stroyed harm­ful bac­te­ria, they also tar­geted the body’s good bac­te­ria, then went on to ac­cu­mu­late in the kidneys, caus­ing kid­ney dam­age. Dr Velkov has de­vel­oped chem­i­cally al­tered syn­thetic oc­tapeptin that has an im­pact on bad bac­te­ria, with­out the toxic ef­fect on the body. How­ever, al­though re­search shows its con­sid­er­able po­ten­tial in the war against an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance, a lack of fund­ing is a ma­jor stum­bling block.

“There’s no money in an­tibi­otics be­cause you only use an an­tibi­otic for a week or two − they’re a ‘one-shot’ medicine,” says Dr Velkov. “So in­stead, big phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies pre­fer to in­vest in de­vel­op­ing more lu­cra­tive med­i­ca­tions – such as drugs to treat choles­terol, depression and can­cer – which peo­ple take more of­ten and for longer. An­tibi­otics also have to be kept cheap be­cause al­though they’re life-saving and a cure for so many things, peo­ple don’t want to pay a lot for them.

“We’re run­ning out of medicine be­cause we’ve left the cup­board bare,” he con­tin­ues. “My big­gest frus­tra­tion is not be­ing able to trans­late what we know into real medicines on the shelf. We have the science and knowl­edge, but all that is use­less un­less we get the in­dus­try in­volved. And each of us also needs to play a role in try­ing to help avert this re­sis­tance cri­sis by not tak­ing an­tibi­otics when we don’t need them.”

‘We need new mol­e­cules that bugs haven’t seen’

You can help tackle re­sis­tance by us­ing an­tibi­otics only when pre­scribed by a doc­tor; com­plet­ing the full pre­scrip­tion, even if you feel bet­ter; and never shar­ing an­tibi­otics or us­ing left­overpre­scrip­tions.

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