Bacteria’s ‘Achilles heel’ could see the end of patients’ resistance to antibiotics

The vulnerable spot is an enzyme many bugs rely on to destroy common antibiotics known as beta-lactams.

New research has shown that the enzyme plays a more important role in antibiotic resistance than other mechanisms that act as a barrier to the drugs.

Scientists found that a combination of two enzyme-inhibitors and the antibiotic aztreonam was able to kill some of the most resistant bacteria known.

Aiming for the beta-lactamase enzyme could make it possible to reverse a "significant proportion" of antibiotic resistance, said the researchers.

Dr Matthew Avison, from the University of Bristol's School of Cellular & Molecular Medicine, said: "Our bacteriology research has further demonstrated that beta-lactamases are the real 'Achilles heel' of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that kill thousands of people in the UK every year.

"Structural/mechanistic work on beta-lactamase enzymes ... is helping to drive the discovery of wave after wave of beta-lactamase inhibitors, including the potentially game-changing bicyclic boronate class, shown to be effective in our research, and recently successful in Phase I clinical trials.

"This is an exciting time for researchers studying beta-lactamase inhibitors. At the risk of sounding like King Canute, it is the first time for a decade that there is some genuine positivity about our ability to turn back the rising tide of beta-lactam antibiotic resistance."

The research appears in two journals, the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and Molecular Microbiology.