It’s not a bird, nor a plane, it’s superbugs. And it will take something more than Superman to fight them off.

Superbugs are a strain of bacteria that have become resistant to treatment with antibiotic drugs.

That is worrying, because antibiotics are used worldwide and have been since the advent of penicillin in 1928. A World Health Organisation study of 65 countries found that, in 2015, more than 13,000 metric tonnes of antibiotics were used.

In fact, the issue is so worrying that it caused then British prime minister David Cameron to say humanity was heading for the “dark ages of medicine” if urgent action was not taken.

That refers to the days of the late 19th century, when tuberculosis was the cause of one-seventh of all human deaths. The disease is now treated with vaccines and antibiotics, but our use of antibiotics to fight it has led to a sharp rise in cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

According to an article in science magazine Cosmos, British economist Jim O’Neill suggested that by 2050, drug-resistant infections could kill 10 million people each year – higher than the toll from cancer.

So what to do?

One idea is phage therapy, which is the therapeutic use of bacteriophages — a virus that can infect and kill bad bacteria but leave the host and beneficial bacteria unscathed — to treat bacterial infections.

But while trials are underway for that, there are a number of home-grown companies taking the plunge.

Recce Pharmaceuticals (ASX:RCE) is an Australian biotech developing a range of synthetic antibiotics aimed at fighting the scourge of superbugs.

Its lead candidate, RECCE 327, has been shown in the lab to weaken the cell walls of the bacteria, resulting in bacterial cell death.

James Graham, director of Recce, stumped up $100,000 of his own money to buy shares on-market last month, in a show of support for the company.

“The antibiotic pipeline is drier than ever, at a time when the need is greater than ever,” he told Stockhead.

“This really does have the potential to be the biggest thing since penicillin, if we can solve it. Our lead focus is tackling sepsis, which affects about 30 million people worldwide, of which a third die.”

RECCE 327 is currently in the manufacturing phase, achieving scale and consistency, ahead of in-human therapeutic use.