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EU-funded researchers discover a completely new antibiotic

 

Brussels, 17 November 2014

A completely new antibiotic to help combat drug resistance has been discovered by the EU-funded NABATIVI project. It is now in clinical trials in collaboration with a world-leading pharmaceutical company.

Such investment in research is essential as the world needs to take urgent, coordinated action against antibiotic resistance or face an era in which common infections and minor injuries that have been treatable for decades can once again kill. In the EU alone, drug-resistant infections lead to around 25 000 deaths each year.

Part of the solution is encouraging the prudent use of antibiotics to prevent resistance from developing in the first place – the focus of this year’s European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November.

Collaboration yields results

The EU is contributing with investment in research. For example, the successful NABATIVI project began by investigating a promising new drug, POL7080. Project partner Polyphor, a small Swiss-based company, had previously identified POL7080 as a possible antibiotic for one of the most dangerous infections, caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The bacterium is often found in hospitals, infecting cystic fibrosis patients, people with weakened immune systems – such as cancer patients – and those in intensive care.

"There are no good antibiotics against P. aeruginosa," said project coordinator Alessandra Bragonzi of San Raffaele hospital in Milan. "It is one of the most dangerous and drug-resistant microorganisms."

NABATIVI helped Polyphor to complete the necessary pre-clinical studies and phase 1 clinical trials of POL7080, which showed that it is safe for patients, in March 2013.

In November 2013 the company concluded a worldwide licensing agreement with pharmaceutical giant Roche to take the drug into phase 2 trials – testing its efficacy on clinical infections. The link-up with Roche is an important step, as the pharmaceutical industry has put only two new classes of antibiotic on the market in the past 30 years.

NABATIVI’s partners, six universities and three SMEs from seven countries, also studied the 5 000 genes of P. aeruginosa – and other bacteria – to identify many other targets and likely drugs.

The EU-funded collaborative approach was essential to NABATIVI’s success. The project could be a model for antibiotic development in the future: initial R&D is carried out by universities and SMEs, while the big investors step in when promising candidates are ready for the long, difficult and expensive task of testing and regulatory approvals.

Horizon Prize

Other EU activities in this area include the new Horizon Prize for Better use of Antibiotics which will be launched in February 2015. The €1 million prize challenges people to develop a rapid test that will allow healthcare providers to distinguish between patients with upper respiratory tract infections that require antibiotics and those that can be treated safely without them.

Background

The European Commission has prioritised research to combat antimicrobial resistance over three successive Framework Programmes for Research, starting from 1999. Most projects have addressed human health, but others have focused on animal health, food and environmental aspects. New projects will be funded under Horizon 2020, which was launched on 1 January 2014. The EU will also continue its successful collaboration with industry through the Innovative Medicines Initiative.

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