UF Health researchers target deadly ‘superbug,’ one of the “greatest threats to human health”

UF Health researchers are developing new antibiotic drug combinations to attack one of the world’s deadliest superbugs.

The superbug Acinetobacter baumannii, or A. baumannii, is a bacterial pathogen resistant to many antibiotics. Commonly found in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities, A. baumannii is among the most challenging hospital-acquired pathogens in the world. It appeared at the top of the World Health Organization’s 2017 list of priority pathogens that “pose the greatest threat to human health.”

Treatment of A. baumannii infections costs an estimated $389 million per year in the U.S. alone and is associated with mortality rates as high as 80 percent. A. baumannii infections can no longer be treated with a single antibiotic; therefore, researchers around the world are eagerly developing new drug combinations and new antibiotics to combat this bacterial superbug.

The National Institutes of Health awarded a $3.4 million, five-year grant to the University of Florida, Case Western Reserve University and Monash University in Australia to study novel antibiotic dosing strategies against A. baumannii. Bulitta, along with his co-investigators, George Drusano, M.D., and Arnold Louie, M.D., from the UF College of Medicine, aim to identify new combinations of existing antibiotics that will better target A. baumannii. Other co-investigators include John Boyce, Ph.D., from Monash University in Australia, and Robert Bonomo, M.D., from Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

In addition, a $2.2 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was awarded to the three researchers from UF Health, along with Bonomo and project leaders Brian Luna, Ph.D., and Brad Spellberg, M.D., from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. This team seeks to validate animal infection models that support research and development of new antibiotics against A. baumannii.

For the researchers involved, the grant funding represents a first step toward attacking the A. baumannii superbug.

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