The sledgehammer approach
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.