Scientists at St. Boniface Hospital have developed a drug that could finally beat antibiotic-resistant infections.
Infections such as gonorrhea are becoming increasingly impervious to existing drugs — making treatment difficult, if not impossible. The World Health Organization has declared such resistance one of the biggest threats to global health.
That makes the Winnipeg discovery, which was published Thursday in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, one of the most important findings to emerge from St. Boniface Hospital.
"So far, so good," said Dr. Grant Pierce, the hospital’s executive director of research and a University of Manitoba professor.
Pierce was enthusiastic Thursday but careful not to get too ahead of himself.
"This is one of those ones where all the stars have lined up, and it’s like, I hope this works because it has huge impact," he said.
The drug is dubbed PEG-2S. Unlike most drugs, which attack bacteria by breaking down cell walls, disrupting protein synthesis or interrupting DNA replication, PEG-2S goes after the bacteria’s energy source. That’s important because bacteria are evolving and figuring out how to resist drugs that attack those three, traditional targets.
By going after the energy source, PEG-2S is able to stop harmful bacteria from multiplying without damaging the healthy cells. It does that by targeting a protein that only exists in bad bacteria.
"We tested a bunch of good bacteria in your gut. It doesn’t do anything to the good bacteria, but it stops the growth there," said Pierce.
The team isn’t certain how many bad bacteria have the protein PEG-2S targets, but they guess it exists in around 30, so the team is going through those bacteria one by one, a cumbersome but necessary process, he said. They’ve tested PEG-2S on a few different bacteria, including chlamydia, legionella (legionnaire’s disease) and pneumonia.
"Kills it," said Pierce, listing them off before acknowledging getting through the rest of the list will take time.
Pierce leads a small but ardent team that includes the study’s lead author — Dr. Pavel Dibrov — and half a dozen students, research associates, post-doctoral fellows and faculty members.
The team’s world patent application has been accepted, and Pierce said they’re waiting to hear from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about patent protection. He expects the drug to begin animal research within a year. Once it’s confirmed "there are no side effects on the good cells in the animals, then we can move into clinical trials," Pierce said.
Back in the lab, the scientists are testing more than a dozen variations of the drug on different bacteria.
"It’s a lot of permutations, combinations to make sure that we’re in the right," said Pierce.
One of the team’s many hypotheses is PEG-2S could also help traditional drugs fight back against the bacteria resisting them.