New Treatment Targets Antibiotic-Resistant "Superbug"

Author:  Larissa Parsley
Date:  July 2004

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and biotech company Micap have recently produced a new treatment that has the potential to kill the bacterial "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). If successful, this treatment could save the lives of over 5,000 patients a year and prevent serious infection in thousands more all over the world.

The new treatment is the result of years of collaboration between MMU and Micap, both based in the United Kingdom. The treatment combines dead yeast cells and natural tree oils that possess surprising power against MRSA. The yeast cells act as a shell to deliver the tree oils into the wounds of infected patients; at this time, the treatment’s specific mode of action is protected by patent and confidentiality laws. Tests in Micap laboratories to develop this treatment have involved researchers from MMU and consultant Val Edwards-Jones, a microbiologist at MMU’s Dalton Research Institute.

"New treatments are urgently needed to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance, particularly in hospitals," stated Edwards-Jones. "As essential oils have been used for a great number of years with increasing amounts of research evidence, we have to look to such alternatives to solve the problem."

MRSA has emerged as one of many "superbugs" in recent years due mainly to the over-use of antibiotics. "Superbug" refers to its status as a bacterium that is highly resistant to many antibiotics, including methicillin and other penicillin-like treatments. Because Staph species like MRSA naturally colonize human skin, the potential for infection is great, especially in individuals with weakened immune systems, in the elderly population, and in young children.

Clinical trials will soon begin to administer the yeast/oil mixture to hospital patients with wounds colonized with MRSA. Commercial release of the mixture will depend on the success of these trials, but Micap remains positive about the treatment’s future.

"This [the treatment] produces a complex killing mechanism to combat MRSA," explained Micap Chief Executive Michael Brennand. "It is a simple concept, but we are very excited about it and its potential."