Three decades ago, it was widely believed that antibiotics had conquered bacteria. But as antibiotic-resistant bacteria have proliferated, pharmaceutical companies have searched for a broad-spectrum drug that could kill them quickly and safely without falling prey to bacterial resistance (See 'Renewing the Fight Against Bacteria' and 'Retracing Steps to Find New Antibiotics'). Now, in the first supramolecular approach to antibiotic drug design, the answer may be near. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have created a synthetic peptide compound that invades disease bacteria and, once inside, forms stacks of tiny jewel-encrusted rings called cyclic peptide nanotubes.

These nanotubes kill bacteria by punching holes in the membrane. Tests carried out in vitro and in vivo demonstrated successful killing of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), among other bacterial pathogens, within minutes, the authors reported last year in Nature.1

"We saw that nanotubes...

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