Ebright called their research process “a return to the classic approach” of antibiotic discovery. His lab used new, more sophisticated screenings to test microbes found in soil. And his team dug up a winner, which they describe in the journal Cell.
“It turns out to be not only possible, but relatively easy to find new classes of relatively potent antibacterial agents that were missed before,” Ebright said.
Pseudouridimycin (PUM) is unique in the way it fights bacteria. It blocks bacterial RNA polymerase, an enzyme used in the transcription of DNA to RNA. It does this, Ebright said, by mimicking a nucleoside-triphosphate, one of the “building blocks” of RNA that is essential for life. While bacteria often mutate by changing binding spots on the surface of the enzyme, PUM binds to a crucial part of the enzyme that nearly all bacteria need, enabling it to thwart even the most insidious of foes.
RELATED: The Trail of Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Leads Back to the First Land Animals
The interaction between PUM and RNA polymerase, Ebright said, “makes it much harder for the bacterium to develop resistance.”
“This is very promising,” said Dr. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University.
“We need more weapons in our arsenal,” Hanage, who was not involved in the study, said, “and this looks like it could be a new weapon.”
PUM has already been shown to be successful against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, one of the main superbug threats in hospital settings. Hanage added there's a need for broad-spectrum antibiotics like PUM that can fight many different types of infections.
But, he cautioned, PUM won’t be a cure-all. “Evolution is cleverer than you are,” he said, “there’s different ways to evolve resistance.”
WATCH: Why Superbugs Thrive in Hospitals