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New antibiotic shows promise in fighting superbugs

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the biotech company PolyMedix have developed a new antibiotic that quickly kills bacteria by blasting holes in their cell membranes. In a clinical trial, the antibiotic worked on staph infections, including MRSA.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the biotech company PolyMedix have developed a new antibiotic that quickly kills bacteria by blasting holes in their cell membranes. The antibiotic, called PMX-30063, works like a defensin, a type of molecule that immune cells use to digest invading bacteria. PolyMedix reported in March that in a clinical trial, PMX-30063 worked on staph infections, including MRSA.

Traditional antibiotics work by recognizing specific structures within the bacteria, but bacteria can quickly adapt by tweaking those structures enough to evade recognition. According to an article posted today on Wired, the new drug takes a different approach and works from the outside to kill bacteria:

The drugs work by poking holes in bacterial membranes, killing the cells instantly. Within a few hours, the antibiotics are able to kill off entire colonies of bacterial pathogens. And resistance is futile: Because the meds don’t enter the actual cell, it’s impossible for the bacteria to fight back through structural adaptation.

According to the article, the Pentagon, which funded the research, is looking to develop an arsenal of compounds for "biodefense applications" and to treat bacterial infections in troops.

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