Faced with increasing levels of antibiotic resistance which put human health at risk, several EU-backed research teams, such as the ActinoGEN integrated project, are on the hunt for new antibiotics. But they face many challenges, including overcoming the misuse of current antibiotics in both human and animal health, as well as flagging investment in new antibiotics by the world's drug makers.
Multiple drug resistant bacteria are a major and rapidly increasing threat to human health, placing a heavy burden on already stretched medical budgets. Two courses of action are necessary. Effort is needed to tackle the root causes of antibiotic resistance by reducing their use in animal husbandry and limiting current prescription practices for non-lethal human diseases. More research is also necessary to develop new antibiotics to fill the gap in the meantime.
|EU project set to tackle the antibiotic resistance problem facing the medical world.|
ActinoGEN – which stands for ‘Integrating genomics-based applications to exploit actinomycetes as a resource for new antibiotics' – is actively pursuing the second path. With €9 million in European Union funding, the project will combine new genomic technologies with chemical analysis to take advantage of microbial genetic resources for new antibiotics. The team also plans to develop what it calls “generic superhosts” in order to produce these new antibiotics in sufficiently high yields.
To herald the start of this new five-year integrated research project, funded under the Union's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) research in the life sciences, scientists from across Europe are gathering today at Swansea University (UK). According to the group, they are mapping out how the joint research can fully exploit nature's most prolific antibiotic factories, the actinomycetes, to help alleviate the current crisis in treatment of multiple drug-resistant diseases. Such antibiotics could provide treatments of last resort for life-threatening diseases including tuberculosis and nosocomial infections like MRSA.
Major impact on healthcare
The project is coordinated by Dr Paul Dyson of the Molecular Biology Research department at Swansea and is made up of 14 EU universities, together with a South Korean partner and three European small- and medium-sized companies. He commented that this pan-European research effort will help scientists better understand the physiology and regulation of antibiotic biosynthesis in actinomycetes.
“This, in turn, can help us develop strategies to ‘turn-on' production of new antibiotics that can be used to combat life-threatening infections like MRSA,” he said, adding that “it will put the European biotechnology sector at the forefront of developing much-needed new antibiotics to combat multi-drug resistant disease.”
Of particular concern are antibiotic-resistant nosocomial infections. The socio-economic costs of these hospital-acquired infections are enormous, the team stressed at the meeting. For example, the UK National Health Service estimates that these infections cost €1.5 billion in extra patient care and are responsible for 5 000 deaths each year.
“There is a potential for [our] new antibiotics to make a major impact on healthcare in the EU, both at the level of the individual patient and also on healthcare budgets by reducing treatment times in hospitals,” Dr Dyson predicts.
EU project ActinoGEN