The Time for Breakthroughs in Antibiotics: 10 Biotech Startups Fighting Bacterial Resistance

by Andrii Buvailo 

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Since a revolutionary discovery of penicillin in 1928 by Scottish bacteriologist and Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming, numerous inventions of new antibiotic classes followed. A cascade of discoveries over decades pushed the limits of medicine in its ability to fight deadly infections, those that used to kill millions of people in the previous centuries.

A today’s slow catastrophe

We have been successfully using antibiotics in so many cases and for such a long time that started taking this powerful tool of modern medicine for granted. Meanwhile, the first warning signs started making headlines informing the public about emerging “superbugs” able to withstand antibiotics due to developed multidrug resistance and thereby becoming a deadly risk.  

The dangerous infection MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was reported spreading in hospitals and healthcare facilities, while uncontrolled overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming led to the emergence of new resistant strains of bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. These are just examples, the list can go on.

According to the statistics from The Center of Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (the CDC), around 2 million people are infected by antibiotic-resistant illnesses in America alone, of whom around 23,000 die each year because antibiotics simply don’t work as they used to in the not-so-distant past.

As widely used therapeutics such as tetracycline, erythromycin and vancomycin lost much of their effectiveness against bacterial infections over the years, the antibiotics Colistin and Carbapenem are considered the big guns — a last line of defense when no other antibiotics are working.

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Colistin structure

Such medications are called drugs of last resort and they usually possess drastic side effects, as in the case of Colistin, being toxic to the human kidney; still, they are the last hope for some desperate patients. Now even this last weapon against malicious bacteria is becoming obsolete, as in recent months mcr-1, a gene which confers resistance to Colistin, has been found in E.coli from over 30 countries, including the cases of resistant bacteria isolated in China and in the United States.

The same story happens in the case of Carbapenem when the gene blaNDM-5 renders bacteria resistant to its action. In 2012, the CDC identified Carbapenem-resistant infections in about 4 percent of US hospitals.

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Topics: Novel Therapeutics    Biotech Companies   

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