Scientists in the United Kingdom have discovered a new type of antibiotic that is capable of killing about 35 potentially deadly bacteria.
The antibiotic, which was discovered using artificial intelligence (AI), is also capable of killing some of the world’s most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria, according to the scientists.
Drug resistance — where the effectiveness of medications in treating infections reduces as pathogens or cancers acquire some sort of tolerance for the drugs — has been a major concern among medical experts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also described the phenomenon “one of the biggest threats to global health security and development today”.
But in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported the discovery of ‘halicin, a potent new antibiotic, which they claim could be used to kill some of the world’s deadliest bacteria.
The newly discovered compound was able to kill 35 types of potentially deadly bacteria, said researchers.
The discovery was made after using a deep-learning algorithm developed by Regina Barzilay, computer scientist, to analyze over 100 million chemical compounds within days.
The scientists trained the algorithm to analyse the structure of about 2,500 drugs and other compounds to find those with the most anti-bacterial qualities that could kill E. coli, before choosing about 100 candidates for physical testing before discovering halicin.
“In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is absolutely a first,” said Barzilay, a senior researcher on the project and specialist in machine learning at MIT.
James Collins, a bioengineer on the team at MIT, also spoke about the discovery. “I think this is one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered to date,” he said. “We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new age of antibiotic drug discovery.”
Jonathan Stokes, the first author of the study, said it took a matter of hours for the algorithm to assess the compounds and come up with some promising antibiotics.
Halicin comes shortly after a drug molecule for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was similarly discovered using AI as the medication remains the first of its kind to be tried on humans.