Common antibiotic slays superbug

12 September 2018

Researchers involved in an international trial tweaking the use of existing antibiotics believe their work could eventually save 30,000 lives annually.

By adjusting the antibiotic used to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of the superbugs Klebsiella and E. coli, a team including University of Queensland researchers was able to reduce patient fatality rates from 12.3 per cent to 3.7 per cent.

UQ’s  Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR) Director Professor David Paterson said the Merino Trial involved researchers from nine countries.

“There is an urgent need to consider appropriate antibiotic use in the face of rising antibiotic resistance,” Dr Paterson said.

“Superbugs, Klebsiella and E. coli, are regarded as a critical threat by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as they become increasingly resistant to most commonly used antibiotics.

“Our trial re-examined antibiotics already in use so that treatment practices could be updated immediately without having to wait for new drugs to be approved – a process that takes years.

“The trial treated almost 400 patients with life-threatening superbugs at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and 25 other hospitals worldwide.

“We found that prescribing the common antibiotic meropenem was more effective against the superbug than other antibiotic treatments, and drastically increased the rate of survival.”

Meropenem is inexpensive and is available in all Australian hospitals.

UQCCR Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Patrick Harris said the trial’s success was due to strong international collaborations.

“Our international collaborators, including National University of Singapore’s Professor Paul Tambyah and Dr David Lye, helped broaden the study to include countries where antibiotic resistance is common and emerging as a major threat to public health.”

“The Merino Trial results will now be the foundation of a new trial in Singapore, Thailand and Australia.

“Some bacteria are resistant to even meropenem, and are almost impossible to treat.

“The Merino Trial tackled the most common problem of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics, and now we can focus on addressing the new emerging problem of carbapenem resistance, which is especially prevalent in South East Asia.” 

The findings are published in Journal of the American Medical Association (DOI 10.1001/jama.2018.12163).

Media: Professor David Paterson, d.paterson1@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 6074; Faculty of Medicine Communications, med.media@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 5118

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