The Daily Shot, Ricochet, June 1, 2017

Since the 1950s, vancomycin has been used to fight the most serious bacterial infections and was often considered a “drug of last resort.” However in the intervening decades, bacteria, being the tricky little creatures they are, have become resistant to it.

It’s important to understand the mechanism at work. Vancomycin works by binding to to a specific peptide that bacteria use to build cell walls. Without the walls, the bacteria die. But over time, some bacteria have evolved, switching one peptide for another, blunting the effectiveness of the drug. This is a serious problem. According to the CDC, 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year (although those aren’t all from vancomycin-resistant bacteria). Fortunately for all of us, a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences brings word of a new version of the drug, Vancomycin 3.0.

Wait, what about 2.0? Version 2.0 is a more potent version that attacks those different peptides. Version 3.0 combines the 2.0 with a new element that stops cell wall construction, and a third that makes cell walls leak, all combined together.

The thinking is that while bacteria could easily adapt to one, using all three at once would be hard to beat. Estimates are that Vancomycin 3.0 is 25,000 times more potent than the old version. This is also a major breakthrough in that it was designed, rather than the usual way that antibiotics are discovered, through trial and error.

However, don’t book that bachelor party to Haiti just yet. They’re still working on the drug, and its not ready for trials in humans just yet. Researchers are hoping to simplify the recipe (thereby making it cheaper), and it still needs to be tested on animals before it makes its way to humans.