Australian scientists have made a breakthrough in finding a powerful alternative to antibiotics – at a time when the World Health Organisation is predicting a bleak future in which bug-killing drugs are so ineffective that ”a child’s scratched knee or a strep throat could kill again”.
The threat of the world returning to a pre-antibiotic era has been fretted about for at least a decade because of microbes becoming increasingly resistant to drugs.
But Monash University researchers, in collaboration with Rockefeller University and the University of Maryland, have published a paper revealing the structure and workings of PlyC – a flying saucer-shaped protein that kills bacteria that cause infections from sore throats to pneumonia and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
PlyC is a viral protein, known as a bacteriophage lysin, that specifically infects and kills bacteria. James Whisstock, Ashley Buckle and Sheena McGowan from the School of Biomedical Sciences have spent the past six years deciphering PlyC’s atomic structure – a crucial step in developing the protein into a drug therapy.
Associate Professor Buckle said PlyC, in its purified form, has been shown to be 100 times more efficient at killing certain bacteria than any other lysin to date.
While developing a drug and delivery system – such as a pill or nasal spray – was still at least a decade away, and subject to serious challenges, scientists at Rockefeller University are already having success in treating strep infections in mice with a nasal spray.