In what could be one of the biggest breakthrough in the world of science – US scientists have re-engineered a vital antibiotic with the purpose to wipe out one of the world’s most threatening superbugs. The modified and improved antibiotic – vancomycin – designed to be ultra-tough and able to fight bacteria that are resistant to drugs that are currently available in the market. Data from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) journal shows that vancomycin has been proven to be ten thousand times more durable and potent than the original version of the drug.

The research is being conducted by one of the world’s largest private non-profit research organizations focusing on biomedical science, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). They hope that the drug will be ready for use within five years once it passes tests.

With experts repeatedly warning that we may be approaching a “post-antibiotic era”, where some infections could become untreatable, the success of the drug could potentially save innumerable lives in the future.

Amongst one of the most aggressive infection that has raised concerns in the medical field is vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE). VRE is a type of bacteria that has developed resistance to many antibiotics, including vancomycin and the infection has been considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the greatest threat to human health. Although, some antibiotics are still able to work against VRE, the 60 year-old vancomycin now proved to be no use.

With that in mind, the team at TSRI has made strategic modifications to the molecular structure of vancomycin in hopes that it would restore its antibiotic properties and more importantly increase the strength and durability of the drug against VRE.

Lead researcher at TSRI, Dr Dale Boger explained to the BBC “”We made one change to the molecule vancomycin that overcomes what is the present resistance to vancomycin. And then we added to the molecule, two small changes that built into the molecule, two additional ways in which it can kill bacteria. So the antibiotic has three different, we call them ‘mechanisms’, by which it kills bacteria. And resistance to such an antibiotic would be very difficult to emerge. So it’s a molecule designed specifically to address the emergence of resistance.”

The modified vancomycin was tested in the lab and successfully killed samples of VRE with it still being able to retain nearly full potency after 50 rounds of exposure to the bacteria.

Although this modified drug is yet to be tested in animals and people, the development of the drug in itself has been ground breaking and it certainly looks promising going forward. Thanks to the breakthroughs of this study, there is now the potential to generate more durable antibiotics to improve existing treatment options against infections. It’s safe to say that this important move has the potential to save countless lives in the future.