The first new antibiotic in more than a quarter of a century has been pulled from a batch of soil by US researchers, and, crucially, it seems to side-step the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

Christened teixobactin, the compound has got hearts racing by showing “potent killing” capabilities for a wide range bugs including methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and those that cause Tuberculosis, according to developer NovoBiotics Pharmaceuticals. 

An article by researchers from the University of Bonn and Northeastern University in Boston, published in Nature, claims teixobactin is able to prevent bacterial cell wall synthesis by binding to two cell wall components, and that none of the bacteria exposed to the drug exhibited any signs of developing resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is already claiming at least 700,000 lives a year, but without new medicines in the arsenal it could cause more than 10 million deaths a year by 2050 at a cost of up to $100 trillion, according to a recent UK report.

“The need for new antibiotics is acute due to the global problem of pathogen drug resistance. Teixobactin’s dual mode of action and binding to non-peptidic regions suggest that resistance will be very difficult to develop” noted Kim Lewis, co-founder of NovoBiotics, commenting on its potential.

Using a novel technique to grow soil bacteria within their natural habitat and then collect the chemicals they produce to detect any antibiotic compounds, the scientists have reaped more than 20 potential candidates thus far. And researchers are particularly hopeful that the soil harvest could just be the tip of the iceberg. “This is a promising source in general for antibiotics and has a good chance of reviving the field,” Dr Lewis said.