Last resort

2019-03-07 04:11:15

By Nell Boyce in Washington DC DOCTORS have gained an ally in their battle against drug-resistant bacteria. But unless the newly licensed drug, Synercid, is used more carefully than its predecessors it could quickly become obsolete. Synercid contains chemicals that attack bacterial ribosomes—their protein-making factories. It won approval from the US Food and Drug Administration last week, making it the first new class of antibiotics approved in a decade. Many bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to conventional antibiotics. The problem is so severe that Synercid’s maker, Rhône-Poulenc Rorer, had to make the drug available for free to some hospitals before its approval (New Scientist, 17 July, p 22). The most troublesome “superbugs” are Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE). In one trial, Synercid saved just over half of 1222 patients with life-threatening VRE. Synercid is expensive and must be taken intravenously. Nevertheless, experts worry that it will be overused, encouraging the spread of resistance and limiting its useful life. “Resistance has already been reported,” says Robert Gaynes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Studies by Marcus Zervos of the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, suggest that around two per cent of people in the US carry Synercid-resistant enterococci in their guts. There are also fears that the practice, still employed on US farms, of adding a similar drug, virginiamycin,