Leading the fight against superbugs

The fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs is happening right here, right now. 

A growing threat to global health, resistant bacterial bloodstream infections are causing high morbidity, mortality and significant financial costs to the health system. 

Infectious disease physician and medical microbiologist Dr Patrick Harris is leading the charge on reducing the burden of these infections, alongside researchers from UQ’s Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR). 

Dr Harris and his team recently concluded a landmark trial assessing the effectiveness of commonly used antibiotics in treating superbugs – E. coli or Klebsiella pneumoniae. These superbugs are increasingly treatment-resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics (such as ceftriaxone).

Ceftriaxone-resistant strains cause approximately 50 million significant infections annually worldwide. The most serious manifestations, bloodstream infections, account for 6 million of those infections and have a 15 per cent fatality rate. 

In the international, multi-centre MERINO Trial, researchers compared the effect on survival of two antibiotics in patients with bloodstream infections. The trial involved patients with infections caused by strains that were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

“We intentionally re-examined antibiotics already in use so that treatment practices could be updated immediately without having to wait for new drugs to be approved – a process that can take years,” Dr Harris explains.

“We were surprised to find a greater 30-day mortality in patients treated with piperacillin-tazobactam (12.3 per cent), compared to those treated with meropenem (3.7 per cent).  

“Previous studies, which were not randomised trials, had suggested that these drugs would be equally effective, but the MERINO Trial did not support this idea.

“The results have significant implications for how clinicians choose treatment for these serious infections. If the results are applied on a global scale, we estimate that tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.” 

In the international, multi-centre MERINO Trial, researchers compared the effect on survival of two antibiotics in patients with bloodstream infections. The trial involved patients with infections caused by strains that were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

“We intentionally re-examined antibiotics already in use so that treatment practices could be updated immediately without having to wait for new drugs to be approved – a process that can take years,” Dr Harris explains.

“We were surprised to find a greater 30-day mortality in patients treated with piperacillin-tazobactam (12.3 per cent), compared to those treated with meropenem (3.7 per cent).  

“Previous studies, which were not randomised trials, had suggested that these drugs would be equally effective, but the MERINO Trial did not support this idea.

“The results have significant implications for how clinicians choose treatment for these serious infections. If the results are applied on a global scale, we estimate that tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.” 

This story is featured in the Summer 2018 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our blog, MayneStream.