With bacteria becoming increasingly resilient to modern medicine, there is growing concern the world could be entering the post-antibiotic era.
Simple infections currently easily treatable could soon prove to be fatal, like they often were before the discovery of penicillin.
To fight this threat, researchers at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have launched a global search for new antibiotics, offering to pay for the testing of any compounds chemists around the world think might be antimicrobial.
Over the next 18 months, with NZ$3.5 million in funding from the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery hopes to try out more than 50,000 concoctions.
“Each year chemists around the world make millions of compounds,” says director Professor Matthew Cooper. “Most of these are not designed as antibiotic drugs and would not otherwise be screened for antimicrobial activity.
“The next antibiotic could be out there, sitting on someone’s shelf.”
There has been little advance in antibiotic medicine since the 1980s. Teixobactin, a new type of antibiotic which targets bacterial walls, was revealed in January to great fanfare but is yet to undergo human trials.
UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies says Alexander Fleming, who discovered how penicillin worked in the 1920s, warned that misuse of antibiotics would eventually lead to resistance.
“Without new antimicrobials to turn to when resistance develops, the bugs start to win. We could see a return to the pre-antibiotic era when 40 percent of mortality was due to infections.”
The Institute for Molecular Bioscience will make their findings open to scientists around the world so they can study it and improve their understanding of antibiotics and know better what to look out for in the future.
“We are heading towards a return to the pre-antibiotic era, when even simple infections caused death,” says Prof Cooper. “Now it is time to act.”