The super antibiotic from the deep

A spelunker finds a possible cure to the scourge of drug resistant bacteria, a third of a mile under New Mexico.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor

Stalagmites, stalactites and antibiotics. Lechuguilla Cave has it all!

There's no depth to which some people won't go to find wonder drugs.

Spelunker and scientist Hazel Barton plunged 1,600 feet down the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico to discover a bacteria that could one day help chomp superbugs and attack the growing world health scourge of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The find by microbiologist Barton of the University of Akron is now in a lab at Cubist Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass, according to a feature article by Bloomberg.

Cubist's current best seller Cubicin fights the superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and will draw over $1 billion in revenue in 2014, according to the story (Bloomberg Industries estimates that the total market for branded antibiotics was $9.5 billion in 2011).

But as is the trend with bacteria, MRSA could find ways to resist Cubicin.

Barton's find could help Cubist overcome that. The bacteria that she yanked from Carlsbad's Lechuguilla Cave devours other bugs, potentially making it a king of superbugs. By throwing it into a petri dish, or wherever Cubist corrals it, the company could develop a drug that combats it.

World health authorities have sounded dire warnings about the threat of antibiotic resistance. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified it as one of the greatest risks to human health.

The Bloomberg article points out that modern drug discovery methods are failing to come up with new, effective antibiotics. Unlike Cubist, many drug makers have abandoned searching for answers in nature, it notes.

WEF has estimated that antibiotic resistant infections cost the U.S. health care system $21 billion to $34 billion a year, and that they account for most of 99,000 annual deaths caused by hospital-related infections in North America.

Photo from Dave Bunnell via Wikimedia.

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