A Therapeutic Approach to Battling Superbugs

Therapeutic alternatives to antibiotics funded by National Institutes of Health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) In the fight against antibiotic resistance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hoping for a breakthrough.

Last week, the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded $5 million in funding to 24 separate research projects seeking to develop therapeutic alternatives to traditional antibiotics. The hope is that these new therapies will help address the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, explained that the NIH grants will provide funding to researchers developing non-traditional therapies that could complement or even replace currently available antibiotics.

"The discovery, development and deployment of antibiotics have transformed medicine," Dr. Fauci said in a press release. "However, microbes continually evolve and become resistant to these lifesaving drugs. New strategies are desperately needed to treat patients with antibiotic-resistant infections that often are deadly."

Walker Winn, PharmD, told RxWiki News that "bacteria are developing resistance mechanisms faster than pharmaceutical scientists can devise new antimicrobial drug mechanisms of action against them."

That's why, according to Dr. Winn, "it is critical that alternative therapeutic options for the treatment of infectious diseases be thoroughly investigated and placed at a high priority for this type of funding."

Antibiotics are drugs designed to fight infections caused by bacteria. These drugs work by either killing the bacteria or making it hard for them to grow.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt to the drugs designed to treat them. This can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable to become stronger. In some cases, these illnesses can become life-threatening.

Each year, more than 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Around 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What's to blame? According to the CDC, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the two most important factors contributing to antibiotic resistance worldwide.

Every time a patient takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed while resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply. Over time and with repeated use, the number of resistant bacteria grows, making the drugs less effective.

A therapeutic is any antibacterial treatment that works differently than traditional antibiotics.

One such approach, called therapeutic bacteria, uses "good" bacteria found in the body to target or control the growth of harmful bacteria. Another approach, called phage therapy, uses viruses that only affect bacteria to do the same.

Dr. Winn told RxWiki News a little more about these therapeutic treatments.

"Some of these new treatment modalities include using viruses called bacteriophages, which are not harmful to humans, to infect and combat bacteria responsible for human infections,” Dr. Winn said. "Other potential new treatment modalities include the use of decoy nanoparticles with receptors for bacterial toxins to effectively act as sponges for the toxins until the body is able to remove or destroy them."

Review Date: 
January 13, 2016
Last Updated:
January 14, 2016