There’s a battle being fought in hospitals around the world: Due to the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, multi-drug resistant pathogens, or superbugs, are on the rise. Now medical teams are running out of antibiotics that work, and researchers are racing to find new treatments that are both effective and safe for use.
Dr. David Andes, professor of Infectious Disease at the School of Medicine and Public Health, is leading a multidisciplinary team of microbiologists, chemists, and pharmacologists in the hunt for new pharmaceuticals. Rather than try to synthesize new treatments, their drug discovery project is looking at an unexpected source of relief: symbiotic communities of animals and beneficial bacteria or fungi, such as ants that have co-evolved with a strain of bacteria that protects them from pathogens.
Bacteria that colonize animals have an important characteristic for drug development—the chemicals they produce are non-toxic to animals. And the beneficial bacteria that have co-evolved with some species of insect and marine life have mechanisms of action unlike existing antimicrobial treatments, increasing the chances they will work against the deadly superbugs.
In the team’s nascent pharmacy, over 50 new antibiotics are at different stages in the research pipeline. And with three patents filed already, Dr. Andes and his colleagues hope to be able to take their research all the way to the frontlines—patient use.