Cancer Research Reveals Pathway to Attack Drug-Resistant Superbugs

New class of antibiotics targets the mitochondria of superbugs, such as MRSA.

Cancer researchers recently discovered a potential solution to reverse antibiotic resistance among superbugs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Drug-resistant superbugs are responsible for countless infections each year. Since many of these bacteria have developed resistance to nearly all antibiotics, researchers have begun seeking novel drugs, but this requires time, money, and innovation.

In a new study published by Oncotarget, the authors discovered a simple way to develop novel antibiotics, with some more potent than amoxicillin and other standard treatments.

“A little like Alexander Fleming, we weren’t even looking for antibiotics rather researching into new compounds that might be effective against cancer stem cells,” said researcher Michael P. Lisanti, MD, PhD.

The authors also believe that their discovery could be a cost-effective way to fight drug resistance.

“I think we’ve accidentally invented a systemic way of creating new antibiotics which is simple, cheap, and could be very significant in the fight against superbugs,” said co-author Federica Sotgia, PhD.

The cancer researchers specialize in methods of inhibiting energy production in the mitochondria of cancer cells. During a search for antibiotics to use against mitochondria, the authors began looking for compounds that inhibited the mitochondria that could be tested as antibiotics.

“Mitochondria and bacteria have a lot in common,” Dr Lisanti said. “We began thinking that if what we found inhibited mitochondria, it would also kill bacteria. So, these new anti-cancer agents should also be potential antibiotics.”

The authors explored the efficacy of 45,000 compounds through the use of a 3D model of a mitochondrial ribosome. They identified 800 small molecules that were expected to inhibit mitochondria based on structural characteristics, according to the study.

The researchers then used phenotypic drug screening to pare the list down to 10 of the most promising compounds.

Without any chemical engineering, the synthetic compounds were observed to inhibit 5 common bacteria, including Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, E. Coli, and MRSA, according to the study. The authors also noted that the drugs killed Candida albicans.

The authors named the compounds mito-riboscins because they target the mitochondrial ribosome in human cancer cells, according to the study.

Importantly, these drugs may be more potent than standard antibiotics and help to strengthen the fight against drug-resistant superbugs.

“We have accidently invented a new strategy for identifying and designing new antibiotics to target drug resistant bacteria,” the authors wrote. “This was under our nose. The bottleneck with antibiotic discovery has been that there was no obvious systematic starting point. We may now have one. These broad-spectrum antibiotics were discovered, by simply screening candidates first on mitochondria in cancer cells.”