A powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world has been discovered using artificial intelligence.

The drug works in a different way to existing antibacterials and is the first of its kind to be found by setting AI loose on vast digital libraries of pharmaceutical compounds.

Tests showed that the drug wiped out a range of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, including Acinetobacter baumannii and Enterobacteriaceae, two of the three high-priority pathogens that the World Health Organization ranks as “critical” for new antibiotics to target.

“In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is absolutely a first,” said Regina Barzilay, a senior researcher on the project and specialist in machine learning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“I think this is one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered to date,” added James Collins, a bioengineer on the team at MIT. “It has remarkable activity against a broad range of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”

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