McMaster University’s Gerry Wright is on the hunt for potential antibiotics

CBC News  Posted: Apr 21, 2013 10:05 PM ET

New antibiotics for superbugs are critically needed to save lives, Canadian and U.S. infectious disease experts warn.

When the Infectious Diseases Society of America reviewed progress on development of new drugs this week, it found only two new antibiotics had been approved since 2009.

[Progress] remains alarmingly slow,” Dr. Barbara Murray of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and her co-authors from the society concluded in the May 15 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Antibiotics kill bacteria but the fast-growing microbes fight back by becoming resistant — a vicious cycle.

Both biological and economic factors hinder the development of new antibiotics, Murray said. Yet new drugs are needed for resistant infections that continue to increase in frequency, causing significant illness and mortality, the society noted.

In the short term, the group aims to create sustainable global antibacterial drug research with the ultimate goal of developing 10 new, safe and effective antibiotics by 2020.

Prof. Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, is one of the researchers hunting for new antibiotics. At the McMaster University professor’s lab, scientists are looking for new ammunition to kill bacteria.

“We have spent several years hunting around Canada and around the world to isolate new bacteria and pull out from them as many compounds as we can,” Wright said from Hamilton, Ont.

Wright is using new technology that can screen hundreds of compounds at the same time. He hopes it will speed up the challenging search.

“Bacteria have been on the planet for almost 4 billion years,” he said. “In that time, they’ve been interacting with their environments and interacting with each other. They have been making molecules to try and poison each other. They are used to detoxifying chemicals, they are used to trying to avoid them.”

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