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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Boost for 'superbug' drugs race
MRSA - methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
The drugs could be combating the likes of MRSA within five years
Scientists are claiming a major breakthrough in tackling drug-resistant "superbugs" such as MRSA.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre (JIC) at Colney in Norfolk say they have used natural bacteria living in soil to attack and kill the infections.

The team "persuaded" the Streptomyces to make potentially more effective antibiotics, hopefully capable of killing some of the lethal superbugs.

They hope the research will help to develop urgently-needed new drugs.

Researchers said the discovery would allow scientists to forge ahead in the race to develop antibiotics to fight hospital acquired infections.

The drugs could be available in five to 10 years.

'Designer antibiotics'

Team leader Prof Tony Maxwell said the researchers studied two natural variations of antibiotics produced by Streptomyces, a harmless type of soil bacteria.

The JIC breakthrough was pinpointing the parts of the molecules that drive the anti-bacterial action.

By adapting these parts of the molecules, it will be possible to make designer antibiotics, capable of better activity and with fewer side-effects, he said.

Prof Maxwell, part of a team of scientists across Europe working in this field, added: "This is a milestone in the process of the development of new anti-bacterial agents.

"There is an urgent need for new antibiotics. When it can cost in the region of 1bn to get a new drug to market, our research will help others in the field to develop new drugs."

The research is published in the latest edition of the American scientific journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

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