New drug formulations to fight against respiratory illnesses and antibiotic resistant superbugs

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A group of scientists and clinicians from Singapore’s A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES), led by Dr. Desmond Heng have developed a new combination of drugs that enhances the efficacy of the drugs used to combat bacterial infections in the lungs or pulmonary diseases such as pneumonia, bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis.

One of the foremost challenges in treating respiratory infections, is the excessive mucus secretion in the airways, which makes its treatment a very challenging task. Hence, the team developed a new drug formulation which comprises of antibiotics and a muco-active agent, which clears the mucus and disrupts bacterial cell-to-cell communication, which is crucial for their growth, and thereby directly kills the bacteria. Tests show that they destroyed the bacteria completely and work twice as fast as today’s top-of-the-line antibiotics. Besides halving recovery time, the increased efficacy also minimizes the risk of encountering antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest challenges in the treatment of bacterial infections today, as bacteria continue to adapt and mutate and develop resistance against antibiotics used to kill them, thus making them superbugs. Hence, the research team has developed and patented three other drug formulations that are made up of three different antibiotics. These antibiotics complement each other by battling with bacterial infection in different ways and thereby prevent bacteria from developing drug resistance.

Acute upper respiratory infections that include the common flu were reported to be amongst the top four conditions diagnosed at polyclinics for eight consecutive years, from 2006 to 2013. Also, pneumonia was the second leading cause of death in 2012. Thus, these new drug formulations could be used effectively in treating these diseases.

These drug formulations are a result of an on-going collaboration between A*STAR and NUH which started in 2010. Buoyed by the results from the laboratory tests, the team is looking to move into clinical trials to test the stability and efficiency of their new drug formulations.