Mayland Chang and Shahriar Mobashery of the University of Notre Dame said the new class of antibiotics -- oxadiazoles -- was discovered by computer screening and show promise in the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in mouse models.
The researchers screened 1.2 million compounds and found the oxadiazole inhibits a penicillin-binding protein, PBP2a, and the biosynthesis of the cell wall that enables MRSA to resist other drugs.
The oxadiazoles are also effective when taken orally -- currently, only one marketed antibiotic for MRSA can be taken orally.
MRSA has been a global public-health problem since the 1960s because of its resistance to antibiotics. In the United States alone, 278,000 people are hospitalized and 19,000 die each year from infections caused by MRSA, the researchers said. Only three drugs currently are effective treatments, and resistance to each of those drugs already exists, Chang and Mobashery said.
"Professor Mobashery has been working on the mechanisms of resistance in MRSA for a very long time," Chang said in a statement. "As we understand what the mechanisms are, we can devise strategies to develop compounds against MRSA."
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.