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Developing a new family of antibiotics

The need

Antibiotics underpin modern medicine as we know it – if they lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures could become too dangerous to perform. An estimated 700,000 deaths a year result from antimicrobial resistance. Unless action is taken, this is projected to rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2050, with the added impact of a cumulative $100 trillion of economic output at risk due to the rise of drug-resistant infections.

There is a clear need to develop new antibiotics, but in doing so we must ensure they can be adapted to keep pace with changing resistance.

The impact

We are working on a three-year collaboration with Scottish SME Ingenza and the University of Plymouth, co-funded by Innovate UK, to develop a new family of antibiotics.

This project focuses on epidermicins, a class of bacteriocins. These are naturally-occurring toxins produced by bacteria to kill other, closely-related strains. If a systematic approach can be found to adapt these bacteriocins into more broadly-effective or even more potent antibiotics, they could increasingly challenge the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and the threat this poses to human health.

Our experimental approach, which includes machine-learning approaches for antimicrobial discovery, developed in collaboration with IBM and the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Hartree Centre, will help to establish the critical performance criteria for selected epidermicins, their derivatives and related bacteriocins. This should, in turn, enhance the range of bacteria they can kill, as well as the potency at which they can do this.

The goal is to generate a pipeline of candidate molecules to deliver the most effective treatment while minimising any potential side effects. Within the same project, the team will also work to optimise the efficiency of Ingenza's fermentation-based manufacturing platform to scale up production of each promising new antimicrobial candidate for further testing and clinical trials.

This unique consortium is extremely well-placed to take forward joined-up discovery, development and manufacture in ways which have never been done before.