Scientists in Scotland, Sweden and Germany have been awarded a €4.6 million grant from the European Union to develop new antibiotics that will be effective against so-called superbugs.
The AEROPATH project aims to find new drugs to combat bacterial infections that are resistant to existing antibiotics. This poses particular problem for people suffering from cystic fibrosis, burns victims, and patients whose immune systems are compromised, for example by chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
Dundee University is leading the partnership, and will work with St Andrews, the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and two German companies, Lionex and MFD Diagnostics
Bill Hunter, of the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, who is coordinating the research programme said “What we are doing in this project is seeking out chemicals which can underpin future antibiotic drug development to combat these dangerous bacteria.”
The bacteria thrive in conditions where the human immune system is weakened or human tissue is not functioning properly, factors which are common in conditions such as cystic fibrosis and burns injuries. The project will exploit genome sequence data to identify and characterise new therapeutic targets and use these to screen for potential drugs.
The work will draw on research carried out through the Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility and the Scottish Hit Discovery Facility in Dundee, both of which have funding from the inward investment agency Scottish Enterprise. Hunter said these facilities contributed greatly to winning EU funding and allowed Dundee to forge links with Gunter Schneider at the Karolinska Institutet and with Mahivir Singh and colleagues in Germany whose expertise in pathogen biology will be critical to the project.
While the project is particularly focused on Pseudomonas aeroginosa, it will also tackle other gram-negative bacteria such as Stenotrophomonas and Acinetobacter species.
Using single crystal diffraction imaging, the researchers will build three-dimensional models of the proteins which are essential for bacterial survival. These will be used to inform structure-based drug discovery.
Mike Ferguson, Dean of Research to the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, said, “This programme brings together a powerful coalition of scientists to research new medicines against gram-negative bacteria, some of the hardest bugs to deal with clinically. It is a great example of interdisciplinary science, applying chemistry, biology, biophysics and computational methods to a specific medical problem.”