Non-Antibiotic Treatment of Infections Sought in New Research

Amid increasing concerns about the spread of antibiotic-resistent infections and the overuse of drugs for infections antibiotics can not effectively treat, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recently awarded $5 million to fund research focused on bacterial infection treatments that do not involve the use of antibiotics.. 

The funds were awarded to 24 separate research projects that will study non-antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections, including 18 universities and three companies focusing on various treatments for infection that do not include antibiotics. The announcement was made in an article published online by The Journal of the American Medical Association on February 23.

The NIAID research awards were offered in response to the President’s National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, issued in March 2015. The plan called for a five year action plan focusing on more stringent prescribing methods, better surveillance, better diagnostic tests, and new research for drugs to treat the bacteria.

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“The discovery, development and deployment of antibiotics have transformed medicine; however, microbes continually evolve and become resistant to these lifesaving drugs,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, NIAD director.  “New strategies are desperately needed to treat patients with antibiotic-resistant infections that often are deadly.”

Antibiotic Resistance A Growing Problem

Bacteria is increasingly becoming resistant to antibiotics, in part contributed by doctors practices and patient demand for antibiotic therapy in response to many medical conditions that could be treated by other means. Bacteria is known to adapt to antibiotics designed to destroy them, making existing drugs less effective and allowing resistant strains to survive and multiply at alarming rates.

In recent years, much media attention has been devoted to the rise of  “superbugs,” which involve bacteria that is resistant to antibiotic treatment. Recently the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Shigella sonnei poses a threat to public health as it is spreading across the U.S. And is resistant to to many types of antibiotics.

A strain of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) recently exposed nearly 200 patients at UCLA Medical Center during a “superbug” outbreak last year.  The outbreak was the result of an infected duodenoscope, but resulted in two deaths and seven confirmed infections.

A study published last year concluded many doctors treating veterans have increased prescriptions for antibiotics for viral infections which cannot be treated by antibiotics. Overuse is one of the primary causes of antibiotic resistant.

The new research will focus on therapies that do not operate in the same way antibiotics are formulated. Antibiotics target one or more essential pathways, such as those involved in cell-wall and protein synthesis, to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Non-traditional approaches will focus on other avenues to destroy the bacteria. Those include introducing “good” bacteria found in or added to the human microbiome to target and control the growth of harmful bacteria. Bacteriophage will also be studied in one of the awarded projects. Phage therapy uses viruses that only affect bacteria nonpathogenic to humans, to eliminate the harmful bacteria in humans.

Other focuses include decoy targets to prevent bacterial pathogens from producing disease, and also boosting the human immune response to pathogens. Other projects may focus on developing different types of drugs that stop the pathogen’s ability to adapt, mutate and resist antibiotics.

The institute said the research could “complement or replace” currently available antibiotics that are losing effectiveness.

The NIAID awards offer support for two years, with possibility of adding three additional years for the most accomplished projects.

Recipients include  Avidbiotics Corporation, Baylor College of Medicine, Brigham Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Synthetic Genomics Vaccines, Inc., Texas A&M Agrilife Research, University of Colorado, and the University of Sydney, among other institutions.


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