A new treatment that combines three antibiotics safely eradicated Mycobacterium abscessus (M. abscessus) bacteria extracted from cystic fibrosis lungs, according to researchers at Aston University and Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the UK.

The findings, which are published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed a combined dose of three antibiotics — amoxicillin and imipenem-relebactam — was 100% effective in killing off M. abscessus taken from lungs of CF patients.

Mycobacterium abscessus is a bacterial pathogen from the same family that causes tuberculosis, which causes serious lung infections in people (particularly children) with lung disorders, most notably cystic fibrosis. It is highly drug resistant. Currently patients are given a cocktail of antibiotics that cause serious side effects including severe hearing loss and often doesn’t result in cure.

The researchers used samples of the pathogen taken from 16 infected cystic fibrosis patients and tested the new drug combination to discover how much was required to kill the bacteria. They found the amounts of amoxicillin-imipenem-relebactam required were low enough to be given safely to patients.

Until now Mycobacterium abscessus has been virtually impossible to eradicate in people with cystic fibrosis. It can also be deadly if the patient requires a lung transplant because they are not eligible for surgery if the infection is present.

In the UK, of the 10,000 people living with cystic fibrosis, Mycobacterium abscessus infects 13% of all patients with the condition.

“Because amoxicillin is already widely available and imipenem-relebactam has just been approved for use by the FDA in the US, these drugs are already available to clinicians. We therefore hope to start treating patients as soon as possible,” said research leader Dr Jonathan Cox, lecturer in Microbiology, Aston University.