A new class of antibiotic has been found to work in the lab against the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea, which can cause infertility and damage to babies and is fast becoming resistant to all existing drugs.
Although it is early days, because the antibiotic has yet to be tried in animals or humans, researchers say they are excited by its potential. The World Health Organisation has listed gonorrhoea as a high priority infection that poses a great threat to human health, estimating that there about about 78m gonorrhoea infections worldwide each year. In the UK, gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI after chlamydia, with 35,000 cases in England in 2014 alone. New drugs are urgently needed.
Closthioamide, which was discovered in 2010, has been tested in the lab against samples of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium causing the disease by researchers from Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
They tested 149 samples of bacteria from hospital patients with infections in the throat, urethra, cervix and rectum. Very small amounts of the antibiotic were effective against 146 of the 149 samples. The drug was also effective against samples of the drug-resistant bacteria provided to the researchers by the World Health Organisation. Their results are published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
Drug resistance is an escalating problem. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug resistant infections. Scientists have found it difficult to discover new antibiotics and many pharmaceutical companies have left the field, because it is hard and there are no reliable long-term markets. New antibiotics are used as little as possible to conserve their potency. When they are widely used, resistance begins to set in and they cease to be effective.
Victoria Miari, lead author from LSHTM, said: “Antibiotic resistance, combined with the reduction of drug development, is one of the biggest health issues facing the world today. The problem threatens to render many human and animal infections untreatable, including gonorrhoea. With no effective vaccine available, new antibiotics are urgently needed to tackle this infection which, left untreated, can have very serious consequences.
“The results of our initial laboratory studies show that closthioamide has the potential to combat N. gonorrhoeae. Further research is…