Groundbreaking antibiotic research receives international backing
6 April 2017 - Carrie Braithwaite
A Leeds Beckett academic is working to fight antibiotic resistance, following a prestigious international grant.
Dr John George, Senior Lecturer in the School of Clinical and Applied Sciences at Leeds Beckett, is Chief Scientific Officer of biopharmaceutical company, Oppilotech Ltd, who have received a share of $24 million from the global consortium, Combating Antimicrobial Resistance Accelerator - CARB-X, in its first round of grants as part of a programme to rejuvenate early stage antibiotic research in the US and UK.
Oppilotech are one of only 11 projects to receive funding from the $450 million CARB-X programme, which was instigated by the Barak Obama administration.
Dr John George
Dr George explained: “As most people are aware, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics at an alarming rate. In fact, the problem is becoming so bad that the World Health Organisation has ranked it alongside global warming as a serious threat to humanity. It is already impacting on healthcare, making routine surgeries and chemotherapy treatments a risk. It is expected that by the year 2050 more people will die from antibiotic resistant bacterial infections than those caused by cancer. The problem is compounded by the lack of new antibiotics: there have been no new classes of drugs for 40 years!”
In order to readdress the balance, a new approach was necessary and CARB-X was established. In the first round of grants, eight US projects and three UK projects have received funding and were selected from 168 applications. The projects include three potential new classes of small-molecule antibiotics and four non-traditional products that represent innovative ways of killing bacteria.
Speaking about Oppilotech’s project, Dr George said: “One of the main challenges in discovering antibiotics has been in the identification of suitable target enzymes. The genetic techniques currently being used have failed to deliver on their early promise. Oppilotech uses a unique approach, utilising computational biology to reveal drug targets.
“In effect, Oppilotech try to recreate the biochemistry which goes on inside a bacterial cell. By doing this, we are able to get a more detailed picture of how a cell behaves; and, if we know how it behaves normally, we might be able to predict how it will behave when we throw a spanner in!
“We were absolutely delighted to win this award. Firstly, this competition was vetted by world experts so our successful application really vindicates our novel approach and the quality of our science. Secondly, it puts Oppilotech on the international stage. CARB-X is a global effort open to any biotechnology or pharmaceutical company; so this shows that our ideas are competitive in an international arena.
“We are using the award to move forward with the pre-clinical testing of novel inhibitors. The drugs we are developing work by making bacteria more permeable. The bacteria which most experts are worried about possess a defensive shield which protect them from chemical or physical attack. Our compounds switch off this defensive shield, making them more susceptible to treatment with conventional antibiotics.”
Professor Gary Jones, Director of the Centre for Biomedical Science Research, said: “This is a major achievement for John and Oppilotech. To win funding through such a competitive route as CARB-X demonstrates the excellence and rigour of the underpinning research and the applied nature of their work. The identification of viable new antibiotic treatments for difficult to treat gram-negative infections has the potential for global impact.”
Dr Pauline Fitzgerald, Subject Group Leader for Biomedical Sciences, added: “Antibiotic resistance is a major strength in our teaching and research portfolios within the Biomedical Sciences group. John’s success and links with Oppilotech provide the group with exciting new avenues and opportunities in research and enterprise development that can have genuine impact on an international scale.”
Top image: Copyright Samantha Celera