A new tactic in the fight against drug-resistant infections

Researchers from The University of Queensland have been awarded almost $1 million to develop a new antibiotic that could treat life-threatening bacterial infections resistant to all known antibiotics.

An international team led by Dr Mark Blaskovich and Professor Matt Cooper from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) have gone ‘back to the future’ to rediscover a forgotten antibiotic from the early 1970s called Octapeptin.

“People are now dying from infections caused by bacteria which are resistant to all known drugs on the market,” Dr Blaskovich said.

“These Extensively Drug Resistant (XDR) bacteria often affect the young, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised such as cancer chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, and organ transplant patients.”

The team has received a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant to develop new drugs based on Octapeptin, which was originally isolated in small quantities as a natural product from soil.

The research team devised methods to chemically synthesise the compound in the lab, which allowed for new versions to be made that have been optimised towards a potential antibiotic drug.

Professor Matt Cooper said there had been only one new class of antibiotic launched into market in the last 30 years.

“So while this research is in the early stage, the rediscovery and optimisation of a forgotten drug is one way to fight back against the worst types of drug-resistant bacteria,” Professor Cooper said.

“We hope that this, and similar activities in other labs, could help to repair the broken antibiotic pipeline.”

Each year about 700,000 people die from drug-resistant infections around the world, however this growing number could reach 10 million by 2050.

Global action to tackle drug-resistant infections is the focus of a major international conference ‘A call for action on drug resistant infections’, being held this week (12-13 October) in Berlin.