A powerful new antibiotic, isolated from bacteria that could not be studied before, seems capable of combatting harmful bacteria and multi-drug resistant ‘superbugs’. Named Clovibactin, the antibiotic appears to kill bacteria in an unusual way, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance against it.
“Clovibactin is different,” says Dr Markus Weingarth, a researcher from the Chemistry Department of Utrecht University. “Since Clovibactin was isolated from bacteria that could not be grown before, pathogenic bacteria have not seen such an antibiotic before and had no time to develop resistance.”
Researchers from Utrecht University, Bonn University (Germany), the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), Northeastern University of Boston (USA), and the company NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge, USA) have shared the discovery of Clovibactin and its killing mechanism in the journal Cell. 
Urgent need for new antibiotics
Antimicrobial resistance is a major problem for human health and researchers worldwide are looking for new solutions. “We urgently need new antibiotics to combat bacteria that become increasingly resistant to most clinically used antibiotics,” says Dr Weingarth.
However, the discovery of new antibiotics is a challenge: few new antibiotics have been introduced into the clinics over the past few decades.
Bacterial dark matter
Clovibactin was discovered by NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals, a small US-based early-stage company, and microbiologist Prof. Kim Lewis from Northeastern University, Boston. Earlier, they developed a device that enables the growth of ‘bacterial dark matter’, so-called unculturable bacteria. Intriguingly, 99% of all bacteria are ‘unculturable’ and could not be grown in laboratories previously, hence they could not be mined for novel antibiotics. Using the device, called iCHip, the US researchers discovered Clovibactin in a bacterium isolated from sandy soil from North Carolina: E. terrae ssp. Carolina.
In the joint Cell publication, NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals shows that Clovibactin successfully attacks a broad spectrum of bacterial pathogens. It was also successfully used to treat mice infected with the superbug Staphylococcus aureus.