New superbug-killing antibiotic discovered using AI
Posted on the 25th May 2023
Scientists have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover a new antibiotic that can kill a deadly species of superbug.
The AI helped narrow down thousands of potential chemicals to a handful that could be tested in the laboratory.
The result was a potent, experimental antibiotic called ‘abaucin’ which will need further tests before being used.
Researchers in Canada and the US say AI has the power to massively accelerate the discovery of new drugs.
Bacterial resistance to antibiotic drugs is on the rise and there has been a lack of new antibiotic drugs for decades.
It is estimated that over a million people die every year from infections that resist treatment with antibiotics.
It is hoped that this breakthrough could pave the way for improved treatment options and signal yet another indication of how artificial intelligence tools can be a revolutionary force in science and medicine.
The researchers first had to train the AI to find a new antibiotic.
They took thousands of drugs whose precise chemical structure was known and manually tested them on ‘Acinetobacter baumannii’ to see which could slow it down or kill it.
This information was fed into the AI so it could learn the chemical features of drugs that could attack the problematic bacterium.
For those who may not know, Acinetobacter baumannii has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of three superbugs posing a ‘critical’ threat to the world.
To date, it has been able to shrug off multiple antibiotics and is a problem in hospitals and care homes, where it can survive on surfaces and medical equipment.
With the data gathered, the AI worked on a list of 6,680 compounds whose effectiveness was unknown. The results, published in Nature Chemical Biology, showed it took the AI an hour and a half to produce a shortlist.
The researchers tested 240 in the laboratory and found nine potential antibiotics. One of them was the incredibly potent antibiotic abaucin.
Laboratory experiments showed it could treat infected wounds in mice and kill A. baumannii samples from patients.
The next step is to perfect the drug in the laboratory and then perform clinical trials. The first AI antibiotics could be available by 2030.