A team of Danish scientists have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him.
Our growing resistance to antibiotics threatens to create a 'post-antibiotic age' - in which previously treatable infections kill millions of us. Scientists are in a race against time to develop a new generation of drugs to prevent that catastrophe. While they do so, University of Copenhagen chemist Jørn Christensen wants to buy us some time. He's isolated two compounds from antipsychotic drug thioridazine which he says could reactivate failing antibiotics in the fight against diseases like tuberculosis. TB has developed resistance to many antibiotics by flushing them out of the body using efflux pumps. SOUNDBITE (English) JØRN CHRISTENSEN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AT UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, SAYING: "Basically once bacteria starts to produce or express these efflux pumps they do not only become resistant to let's say penicillin, it's a larger variety of compounds so it could be penicillin, it could be fluoroquinolones...that suddenly in the same operation it becomes useless against this strain of bacteria." Christensen and two doctors from other Danish institutions say their compounds block the efflux pump, so the antibiotic remains in the bacteria and kills it. SOUNDBITE (English) JØRN CHRISTENSEN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AT UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, SAYING: "This can at least give us some time where we basically can re-use many of the old drugs....and meanwhile we or other people can work on locating the next big hammer that can be used once this perhaps stops working." Human trials will be needed and Christensen's team say outside funding is required to produce a drug using their compounds. They hope that as thioridazine is an approved medicine, the lengthy process required to licence new drugs can be shortened. Before the development of penicillin, minor infections in the lung or from small cuts could become death sentences. Christensen believes he can help delay the potentially apolocalyptic return of those days.