Consortium receives funding to discover, develop and manufacture new antibiotics

Dr Mathew Upton, Associate Professor in Microbiology at the University of Plymouth’s School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences, leads the consortium from the University of Plymouth arm of the partnership.

A consortium of scientists from Ingenza Ltd (Edinburgh), the National Physical Laboratory (NPL, London) and the University of Plymouth has received funding of £933k from Innovate UK to develop a design and manufacturing platform for the production of a new family of antibiotics. The funding will be for three years.

Ingenza is the UK’s premier industrial biotechnology company and will engineer systems for production of the new antibiotics. NPL (the UK’s National Measurement Institute) will apply its expertise in the design and measurement of antibiotics that selectively attack microbial cells, and contribute artificial intelligence approaches for antimicrobial discovery developed in collaboration with IBM and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre. Staff at the University of Plymouth are internationally recognised for the discovery and development of novel antibiotics. No such combined capability currently exists in the development of new antibiotics and antimicrobials.

The success of the first antibiotics, such as penicillin, was based on their ability to not only combat infection but also provide potential for redesign to enhance effectiveness – resulting in longevity and sustainability of useful antibiotics.

The consortium will develop new antibiotics/antimicrobials, which have similar capabilities. The team will work with bacteriocins, potent toxins produced by bacteria to kill other, closely-related strains. Bacteriocins are naturally active in the human body but have not evolved to function as effective drugs in the clinic.

If a way can be found to convert bacteriocins into effective antibiotics, they offer excellent potential for use to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and the threat this poses to human and animal health around the world.

The consortium will take a model bacteriocin, discovered by University of Plymouth staff, and enhance its performance in terms of range of action, stability and potency. The aim is to generate derivatives which show drug-like properties without compromising the bacteriocin’s original potent bacteria-killing abilities. The manufacture of the derivatives will then be scaled-up into commercially attractive production systems.

Dr Mathew Upton, Associate Professor in Microbiology at the University of Plymouth’s School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences, Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, leads the consortium from the University of Plymouth arm of the partnership.

He said: 

“The advance of antimicrobial resistance is relentless and well-documented. There is a clear need to develop new antibiotics, but in doing so we must ensure that these new antibiotics can be adapted to keep pace with changing resistance – as early antibiotics such as penicillin were able to do. Ours is a unique consortium and extremely well-placed to take forward joined-up discovery, development and manufacture in ways which have not been done before. We are very excited by this project and extremely grateful to Innovate UK for funding us for the next three years.”

He added: 

“The development of new antibiotics will go some way to combatting the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. However, hand-in-hand with that, improvements must happen in education for health services staff and medical practitioners, explaining how new antibiotics should be used, if we are to avoid future resistances crises. Development of new diagnostic methods to detect bacterial infection and guide antibiotic prescription will also complement antibiotic discovery. The discovery and development process for new antibiotics is a long and costly journey, but changes in regulation surrounding introduction of new antibiotics are going to speed the process and there are new funding initiatives that will support these development programmes. We have other novel agents that are closer to clinical evaluation and the new antibiotics being designed in this project will ideally follow fast on their heels to keep up the supply of novel antibiotics.”

Currently, it is estimated that around 50,000 people are already dying each year in Europe and the US from antibiotic resistant infections, according to Lord O’Neill’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

In the UK alone, at least 12,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant superbugs each year, which is higher than deaths from breast cancer.