A virus might be the boogeyman of 2020, but we shouldn’t ignore bacteria as a looming health threat. The growing problem of antibiotic resistance isn’t slowing down, which could soon render our best drugs useless against infection. Now, researchers at the University of Hong Kong have found that an existing rheumatoid arthritis drug can be repurposed to cancel bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics.
Antibiotics were one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century, but unfortunately decades of overuse has now caught up with us. Bacteria have evolved resistance to almost every drug we can throw at them, and if the problem isn’t addressed we could be headed into a new “dark age” of medicine, where even the most basic of infections becomes lethal once again.
To help prevent that nightmare scenario from coming to pass, the researchers on the new study investigated existing drugs that could turn the tide. The team found that auranofin, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis since the 1980s, can restore the bacteria-killing function of two “last resort” antibiotics that are becoming ineffective.
Carbapenems are a class of antibiotics that are used to treat infections that are resistant to basically everything else in our arsenal. Colistin, meanwhile, is considered a last-last resort due to its severe side effects. Worryingly, bacteria are increasingly exhibiting resistance to both carbapenems and colistin.