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Thousands of Potential Antibiotic Combinations Uncovered

September 05, 2018

Despite previous doubts about the effectiveness of multi-drug antibiotics created from more than 2 drugs, researchers have discovered some eight thousand 4- or 5-drug combinations that effectively treat bacteria.

“There is a tradition of using just 1 drug, maybe 2,” said Pamela Yeh, UCLA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “We’re offering an alternative that looks very promising. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to just single drugs or two-drug combinations in our medical toolbox. We expect several of these combinations, or more, will work much better than existing antibiotics.”

The team used 8 antibiotics to create 251 two-drug combinations, 1512 three-drug combinations, 5670 four-drug combinations, and 13608 five-drug combinations, examining their effects on the growth rates of pathogenic E coli. In total, 18,278 combinations were tested.

The researchers predicted the effectiveness of every combination before testing began. Overall, 1676 four-drug groupings and 6442 five-drug groupings performed better than expected. Alternatively, 2331 four-drug combinations and 5199 five-drug combinations were less effective than expected.

However, the researchers noted that although the drug combinations have shown promise in a laboratory setting, it will likely be years before they are evaluated as potential treatment options for patients.

“These findings have implications for the potential efficacy of drug combinations and are crucial for better navigating problems associated with the combinatorial complexity of multi-component systems,” they concluded.

—Michael Potts

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