Finding lost antibiotics


A project to rediscover lost antibiotics and fight drug-resistant bugs has secured $3 million in Federal Government funding

The funding through the Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) Program was announced by Federal Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Zed Seselja. 

Assistant Minister Seselja said the CRC-P Program helped businesses, industries and research organisations work together on short-term projects and develop practical solutions to challenges in key industry sectors.

Dr Heng Chooi, an ARC Future Fellow at the UWA School of Molecular Sciences, is one of the lead researchers of the project, headed by biopharmaceutical company Microbial Screening Technologies (MST), Dr Andrew Piggott from Macquarie University and industry partner Advanced Veterinary Therapeutics (AVT).

Dr Chooi is an emerging leader in molecular and genomic research of antibiotic production by microorganisms, says UWA. He harnesses molecular genetic approaches to unlock the hidden potential of microbes to produce new drug molecules.

“Genome sequencing has revealed that microorganisms, especially bacteria and fungi, harbour vast genetic potential for production of diverse bioactive molecules,” Dr Chooi said.

“Their abilities were previously underestimated as microbes tend to produce only a small subset of the molecules encoded in their genomes in standard laboratory growth conditions.”

Building on MST’s large microbial library which houses more than 500,000 bacteria and fungi sourced from diverse Australian geographical locations, the UWA-led team will use molecular and genomics tools to accelerate the discovery of new drug molecules as well as rediscovery of lost antibiotics to combat drug-resistant bacterial pathogens and develop as next-generation pharmaceuticals.

“Lost antibiotics are molecules with interesting antimicrobial properties that were investigated decades ago but stalled in clinical development,” CRC-P Project Leader and Managing Director of MST Dr Ernest Lacey said.

“Some of the producing microbial strains were completely lost and to effectively combat drug-resistant bacteria, these ‘old’ molecules needed to be reinvestigated under new light.”

MST has been the sole supplier of some of these lost antibiotics to researchers worldwide and has been evaluating the potential of these molecules as treatment with AVT.

The project will further expand the library of ‘old’ and new drug molecules for advancing antimicrobial research and drug discovery with the aid of cutting-edge molecular and genomics research at UWA and Macquarie University.

The project’s total value of $6.9 million includes $3.9 million cash and in-kind contributions from participating universities and industry partners, and will support the industry-led collaborative research for up to three years.

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