Superbug drug discovery to be fast-tracked

Monday, 29 June, 2020

Superbug drug discovery to be fast-tracked

Antibiotics that target drug-resistant bacteria — discovered at The University of Queensland (UQ) — will be fast-tracked under a $16 million international research deal.

The agreement with CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria) — a global non-profit partnership dedicated to accelerating the development of preclinical products against drug-resistant infections — provides UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) with up to $5.6 million to develop a new antibiotic, and a further $10.3 million as project milestones are passed.

Dr Mark Blaskovich, Professor Matt Cooper and Dr Karl Hansford are joining forces with CARB-X.

Project leader Professor Matt Cooper said the new antibiotic, Octapeptin-X (OPX), would target the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria that evade all current therapies.

“Much of the world’s current focus is rightly on COVID-19, but superbugs remain a serious and constant threat to global human health,” Professor Cooper said.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said it was gratifying UQ was the first Australian organisation that CARB-X had chosen to support.

“We are determined to make a difference to the global antibiotic resistance problem — another example of fundamental research underway at UQ changing the world and saving lives,” Professor Høj said.

“The funding cements the Institute for Molecular Bioscience as the leading place for antibiotic discovery and development in Australia, and one of the leading centres globally.

“The drug discovery capabilities of the Centre for Superbug Solutions, teamed with vital support from CARB-X, will equip us to tackle this challenge and improve outcomes for people with drug-resistant infections in the future.”

Centre Director Dr Mark Blaskovich said drug-resistant bacteria strains were on the rise, killing about 700,000 people worldwide annually.

“Commonly these bacteria cause pneumonia, urinary tract and wound infections,” he said.

“Our current antibiotics are increasingly ineffective against them, leaving patients with no alternatives.”

The project’s lead chemist Dr Karl Hansford said use of polymyxin — a last-line antibiotic which has severe side effects — had surged in recent years as doctors struggled to treat superbug infections.

“The CARB-X funding will enable us to develop Octapeptin-X (OPX) as a safe treatment for drug-resistant infections deemed untreatable by these conventional therapies,” Dr Hansford said.

“We’ve demonstrated that OPX antibiotics exert a unique killing action distinct from other antibiotics.”

Image caption: Dr Mark Blaskovich, Professor Matt Cooper and Dr Karl Hansford are joining forces with CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria) to develop new antibiotics to fight superbugs.

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