A team of researchers have discovered a “powerful” new antibiotic compound using a machine-learning algorithm, or artificial intelligence (AI).

The team say that in tests, the drug killed many of the world’s most problematic disease-causing bacteria, including some strains that are resistant to all known antibiotics, as well as clearing infections in two different mouse models.

The computer model used is designed to pick out potential antibiotics that kill bacteria using different mechanisms than those of existing drugs, and can screen more than a hundred million chemical compounds in a matter of days.

The researchers confirmed that they also identified several other promising antibiotic candidates, which they plan to test further and believe that the model could also be used to design new drugs, based on what it has learned about chemical structures that enable drugs to kill bacteria.

The discovery comes at a time when we are “facing a growing crisis around antibiotic resistance,” a situation which is being “generated by both an increasing number of pathogens becoming resistant to existing antibiotics, and an anemic pipeline in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries for new antibiotics” said James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES).

“We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new age of antibiotic drug discovery,” he explained, going on to say “Our approach revealed this amazing molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered.”

Over the past few decades, very few new antibiotics have been developed, and most of those newly approved antibiotics are slightly different variants of existing drugs. Current methods for screening new antibiotics are often prohibitively costly, require a significant time investment, and are usually limited to a narrow spectrum of chemical diversity.