Hungarian Researcher Makes Breakthrough in the Field of Antibiotics


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Dr. Viktória Lázár, a researcher at the Szeged Biological Research Center and head of the next-generation team at the Hungarian Center of Excellence in Molecular Medicine (HCEMM), has shown that the effectiveness of antibiotic combinations is often weaker than that of the individual drugs alone.

The scientific result is a major breakthrough in antibiotic efficacy research and has been published in Nature, one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals. 

Antibiotics are a family of drugs that play a central role in modern medicine and have saved hundreds of millions of lives over the last century. However, recent research has shown that bacterial strains are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic therapies, leading to superbugs that are resistant to several different antibiotics at once, significantly reducing patients' chances of recovery.

According to a survey by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, multi-resistant pathogens cause pneumonia and various infections in ~8% of patients admitted to intensive care units in Europe. According to WHO data, this led to 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2019. It is estimated that this number could increase in the future to the point that by 2050, resistant infections could cause more deaths than cancer. The problem of resistance naturally affects Hungary. 

In her latest research at Technion - Israel University of Technology, Lázár investigated the long-term effectiveness of antibiotics in killing bacteria when they are used in various combinations rather than alone. The research, backed up by studies, has revealed that antibiotic mixtures often show surprising, unexpected interactions. In fact, the bactericidal effect of individual antibiotic mixtures was orders of magnitude weaker than that of single-agent treatments alone.

These very common combinations of antibiotics with mutually inhibitory effects were previously unknown to researchers. Although avoidance of these mutually inhibitory pairs of antibiotics would be recommended in clinical treatments, the researchers observed that they also have beneficial effects. Where bacteria become resistant to one or other of these drug pairs, when used together they are orders of magnitude more effective at killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria than their susceptible counterparts. This is true even for the dangerous and resistant MRSA bacteria that is spreading in hospitals.

Dr. Viktória Lázár stressed, "These differentially selective antibiotic combinations that target antibiotic-resistant bacteria hold great promise for slowing the spread and evolutionary adaptability of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another line of research we are pursuing with HCEMM support is how the medicines a patient regularly takes to treat an ongoing health problem, such as high blood pressure or heart problems, affect the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat a newly emerging bacterial infection. "

"The scale of the task is reflected in the fact that we have so far tested hundreds of combinations of 19 different antibiotics, but there are thousands more," she added.

Instead of developing new antibiotics, which is very costly and less and less profitable for pharmaceutical companies, it is timely to investigate effective combinations of existing drugs. 

The focus of the HCEMM research project is translational medicine, i.e. promoting the clinical application of basic research results and ensuring scientific excellence based on an international evaluation system. Project number 739593 is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

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