Researchers in the October 17th issue of the medical journal "Cell" said they discovered three naturally-occurring antibiotic compounds that can be used to create new medications, which can be administered to unleash "a kind of chemical warfare against other bacteria."
The breakthrough holds special promise for the treatment of tuberculosis (TB), a disease that is carried by one in three people in the world and which is proving increasingly resistant to today's antibiotics, scientists said.
The new antibiotic class not also promises treatment that could be significantly shorter than existing antibiotic regimens, which can last as long as a half-year.
"The Holy Grail in TB therapy is to reduce the course of therapy from six months to two weeks - to make treatment of TB like treatment of other bacterial infections," said Richard Ebright, lead researcher at Rutgers University's Howard Hughes Institute, which conducted the study.
"With a six-month course of therapy for a disease that is largely centered in the Third World, the logistical problems of administering therapy over space and time make eradication a nonstarter," said Ebright said.
"If there were a two-week course of therapy, the logistics would be manageable, and the disease could be eradicated," he said.
The breakthrough comes at a time when roughly a quarter of all deaths worldwide result from bacteria-borne diseases but with such pathogens increasingly resistant to available antibiotics.
"For six decades, antibiotics have been our bulwark against bacterial infectious diseases," said Ebright.
"Now, this bulwark is collapsing. There is an urgent need for new antibiotic compounds and practical new targets."