Canadian scientists say they have discovered the first new antibiotic in three decades, and that their research suggests it may be effective at killing two of the most worrisome superbugs.

The drug is called PEG-2S and it works by inhibiting a sodium pump called NQR that at least 20 different types of bacteria need for respiration, according to researchers from the St. Boniface Hospital and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

The new antibiotic, which still needs to be tested in clinical trials and is years away from being available to the public, is expected to work on at least two of the 10 “priority pathogens” the World Health Organization said are of utmost concern: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is often acquired by people with weakened immune systems in hospitals. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is responsible for gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease in which 30 per cent of new infections are now drug resistant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Grant Pierce, executive director of research at St. Boniface Hospital and a professor at the University of Manitoba, said that PEG-2S is designed to attack bad bacteria without affecting healthy human cells.

“Most of the antibiotics out there today are hitting one of three targets on the bacteria -- the cell wall, or the protein synthesis or the DNA replication,” Pierce told CTV News.

But the new drug attacks something else, the NQR pump which influences the energy of the bacteria. 

“So it’s a breakthrough in that it’s attacking a completely different target,” he said.

Pavel Dibrov, a professor at the University of Manitoba and lead author of the new research paper, calls the results “tremendously exciting” and said researchers are currently developing variations of the drug that could kill multiple different types of bacteria.

The researchers note that no new antibiotics have been discovered since 1987.

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