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A Powerful New Antibiotic May Have Been Living in Our Noses This Whole Time

Man blowing his noseMan blowing his nose
Lugdunensis is found in the nose and seems to be an effective enemy for bacteria.Photograph by UniversalImagesGroup—via Getty Images

The decades-long lack of innovation in developing new antibiotics and the rise of drug-resistant bacteria has terrified the scientific community. But researchers may have discovered a promising bacteria-fighting compound that’s been hiding right under our noses—or at least inside our noses.

Scientists from the University of Tübingen in Germany have identified a compound called lugdunin that appears to be effective in killing off bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, the microbe whose potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant form is commonly known as MRSA, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Lugdunin is a byproduct of another bacterium called Staphylococcus lugdunensis that resides in human nostrils.

It’s far too early to tell if lugdunin can form the basis of a new antibiotic that can be put to widespread use. But there’s initial promise. Researchers found that S. aureus could not easily colonize in the noses of people with higher levels of S. lugdunensis and that isolated lugdunin could kill off certain bacteria that had become resistant to other drugs.

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The study highlights two major ongoing trends in biopharmaceutical drug development: the scramble among some research institutes to address “superbugs” and growing interest in use of the human microbiome, or the totality of all microorganisms in the body, as a vehicle for drug discovery.

The motivations behind the anti-superbug effort are clear. “Multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO), such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus, vancomycin-resistant enterococci, and third-generation cephalosporin-resistant Gram-negative bacteria, are expected to become more frequent causes of death than cancer in the co>ming decades,” as the study authors explained.

As for microbiome research, an increasing number of biopharma companies have been investing resources into the field. Most recently, U.S. pharma giant Merck (MRK) announced a restructuring effort wherein the company will slash overall R&D spending to concentrate funds on key developing therapeutic spaces like microbiome research.

Gut bacteria have already shown early promise in fighting certain infections, and the new lugdunin research suggests other naturally-occurring body bacteria could be put to more widespread uses.