Beating the Suberbugs: avoiding an antibiotic apocalypse

11 Sep 2014

Despite the fact that specific recommendations for the prescribing of antibiotics by general practitioners were issued by the Department of Health in 1998, and have been regularly updated since, a recent study carried out by Public Health England (PHE) and University College London, and reported in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, found that there had been a 40% increase in the prescribing of antibiotics for coughs and colds between 1999 and 2011. The prescribing of antibiotics to treat non-bacterial infections, against which they are ineffective, is a major cause for concern because it has the potential to facilitate bacterial resistance to the drugs..

An essential component of the biological activity of the penicillins is their β-lactam ring but this is susceptible to cleavage by those bacteria possessing the appropriate enzymes. This early form of bacterial resistance was countered by the development of antibiotic mixtures, e.g. Augmentin®, in which a penicillin was paired with clavulanic acid. While clavulanic acid is a relatively weak antibiotic when used alone, it acts a powerful inhibitor of β-lactamases thus allowing the penicillin to work.

Research being carried out by Professor Schofield's group at the University of Oxford includes work aimed at improving the production of clavulanic acid and modifying its biosynthetic pathway with a view to producing novel antibiotics. In his lecture at New York University in London on 9 October 2014, Professor Schofield will be talking about this work and additional work on carbapenems. The carbapenems are also β-lactam antibiotics but possess a greater resistance to enzymatic cleavage of the ring.

Julian Perfect,
Hon Secretary, SCI London Regional Group

Related Links

PHE press release, 5 August 2014, 'Significant scope to improve anti-biotic prescribing'
Hanson, J.R., 'Chemistry and Medicines', the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, UK. 2006
Schofield, C.J., in Research Guides, University of Oxford
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