Jan 17, 2019

To tackle antibiotic resistance, researchers try new approaches

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Scientists are testing new strategies to build better treatments for people with antibiotic-resistant staph infections. One aims to boost the power of current antibiotics and another uses a new biologic to disable the bacteria's toxins that incapacitate the immune system.

Why it matters: Calling antibiotic resistance "perhaps the biggest health challenge of our time," Athena Kourtis, an associate director for data activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells Axios:

"Innovative approaches like these are very much needed in order to successfully prevent and treat infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

Background: As of September, there were around 40 antibiotics in the clinical trial pipeline aiming to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR), some of which are targeting Staphylococcus aureus that can cause cause fatal infections like MRSA and pneumonia.

  • The success rate is typically low for antibiotics to reach federal approval for patients, so some scientists are looking for alternatives.
  • In 2013, the CDC estimated that 80,000 MRSA infections occur each year, causing about 11,000 fatalities in the U.S.
  • While the latest published data shows significant progress was made to reduce MRSA bloodstream infections in health care from 2005–2012, when it decreased by 17% each year, Kourtis says the progress slowed from 2013–2016.
"Multidrug resistant bacteria is causing havoc on communities and hospitals, and limiting the number of therapies available."
— Victor Torres, associate professor in microbiology department, NYU Langone Health

What's new: In looking for other approaches to tackle this problem, several recent studies have been conducted.

1. A newly engineered protein neutralizes the bacteria's toxins that stymie the immune system from working properly, according to a preclinical study published in Science Translational Medicine Wednesday.

  • The proteins, called centyrins, bind themselves to some of the toxins produced by the bacteria, and halt them from blocking the immune system.
  • "This could be considered paradigm-shifting in that it adds a new class of biologics," study author Torres tells Axios.
  • Torres says the scientists are working with their partner, the company Janssen Research and Development, to create another preclinical trial that would improve the molecule by merging it with an anti-staph monoclonal antibody (mAB) before trying to enter human clinical trials.

2. A new molecular booster penetrates the bacteria to allow the antibiotic to do its work, according to a preclinical study published Nov. 2 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

  • This one takes the first-line antibiotic vancomycin and attaches a molecule called r8 to the antibiotic. This enables it to basically crash through the bacteria's tough protective exterior.
  • The combination, called V-r8, was found to be a potent combination in mice. According to Stanford, it killed about 97% of bacteria after 5 hours.

Meanwhile, another study published in The BMJ found that around 23% of antibiotic prescriptions given in America were inappropriate, helping lead to the "development of antibiotic resistance, which is one of the greatest threats to public health worldwide."

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The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.