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Unique fungal collection could hold key to future antibiotics

23.01.2008
Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London have joined forces with CABI to establish a facility to screen for potential new antibiotics. Royal Holloway and CABI both bring a combination of individual scientific skills, expertise and resources to the project. When brought together, these offer the opportunity to build a highly focused natural products drug discovery operation that will address the urgent need for bringing new antibiotic compounds to market.

Since their discovery, antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents have saved millions of lives and significantly eased patients’ suffering. However, over time, micro-organisms have developed resistance to existing antibiotics making infections difficult, if not impossible, to treat. The recent appearance of multiple-resistant bacterial infections has radically increased the necessity for new antibiotic discovery.

As part of a three-year programme, the joint research facility will utilise CABI’s unique collection of fungi gathered from all parts of the world, to screen for potential new antibiotics. Although the first natural product antibiotic to be used clinically, penicillin, was isolated from a fungus, these organisms have not been as extensively evaluated as bacteria as sources of new drugs for treating infections and so there is great potential for discovery in CABI’s 28,000 organism collection.

Furthermore, over the past 25 years companies have concentrated on using chemistry-based approaches to modify recognised antibiotic structures. However, the use of natural products, from fungi, which have evolved from millions of years of competition against bacteria is likely to lead to products with new modes of antibiotic action that disease-causing bacteria cannot counter. This new joint facility aims to harness these natural chemical compounds from fungi to offer potential new antibiotics. Similarly, compounds that have proven health benefits when taken in the diet (so-called nutraceuticals) are also likely to be found in fungi and the new joint research facility will also screen the collection for new nutraceuticals.

Professor Peter Bramley and Dr Paul Fraser in the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway and Dr Trevor Nicholls, CEO and Dr Joan Kelley Executive Director of CABI are managing the project. Professor Bramley and Dr Fraser’s extensive experience in molecular biology and analytical methodologies will be applied to state-of-the-art screening techniques for the discovery of new compounds and the manipulation, recombination and expression of their biosynthetic pathways to bioengineer new, related compounds. Dr Nicholls’ experience in the biotechnology industry and Dr Kelley’s expertise and knowledge of mycology and biodiversity will direct the research to identify strains which are likely to be more biochemically diverse and commercially valuable for screening.

Professor Bramley commented, “This joint initiative lays the foundations for a long term collaboration with potential strategic benefits, both research and commercial. A major focus will be the search for new antibiotics and nutraceuticals, for which there is now increasing commercial, nutritional and medical demand.”

Dr Trevor Nicholls, CEO CABI added, “This is a really exciting partnership and we are looking forward to working with the expertise of the scientists at Royal Holloway. We are hopeful that our collaboration will prove the winning formula for discovering new drugs to fight cancers, diseases and resistant strains of infections such as MRSA.”

The joint facility is located in the Royal Holloway’s School of Biosciences and houses a new state-of-the-art mass spectrometer. As part of this collaboration, two technicians will be employed and a PhD studentship funded.

Royal Holloway has also obtained early stage seed fund investment from the London Development Agency backed WestFocus PARK Fund, to commercialise any potential new discoveries emerging from this project. The project team will work closely with the Research & Enterprise department at Royal Holloway to protect, manage and exploit any new intellectual property.

Lynsey Sterrey | alfa
Further information:
http://www.cabi.org
http://www.cabi.org//datapage.asp?iDocID=1010

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