Major NIH grant to strike down superbugs

MIPS team

(L-R) Professor Roger Nation, Dr Kade Roberts, Dr Tony Velkov and Associate Professor Jian Li. (Associate Professor Phil Thompson is also part of the MIPS research team.)

Doctors treating infectious disease who are down to the last line of defence against antibiotic-resistant superbugs will be buoyed by an A$4.48 million investment in designing new treatments and therapies.

Awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, the grant will support researchers from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and Rempex Pharmaceuticals in California to design and develop new antibiotics that are effective against bacterial ‘superbugs’ that cause life-threatening infections and are resistant to all current antibiotics.

The NIH has been a major funder of this innovative research program as this new grant is the third, large RO1 grant received over the last five years.

Antibiotic resistance is an urgent global medical challenge. Currently, a class of antibiotics known as polymyxins are used to treat multidrug-resistant bacteria. However infections that are unresponsive to this last-line therapy have recently been reported in many countries.

The MIPS team comprises Associate Professor Jian Li, Dr Tony Velkov, Professor Roger Nation, Associate Professor Philip Thompson and Dr Kade Roberts. Associate Professor Li and Professor Nation have been investigating polymyxins for more than a decade and are regarded as international leaders in the field.

Rempex is a San Diego based pharmaceutical company focused exclusively on developing drugs to combat emerging antibiotic resistance.

Dr Li, the Program Director of the project, said timing was critical as rising resistance to polymyxins would mean virtually a complete lack of treatment options for some life-threatening infections.

"It is not an exaggeration to state that the world is on the brink of a return to the pre-antibiotic era," Associate Professor Li said.

"In recent decades, bacteria that are resistant to all available antibiotics have emerged, while at the same time there has been a marked decline in the search for new drugs to combat these superbugs."

The five year project will design and develop new antibiotics to address bacterial resistance, and allow successful treatment of acute and chronic infections.

"We're aiming to develop at least one new drug candidate for future clinical trials," Associate Professor Li said.

Senior Vice-President for Research and Development and Chief Scientific Officer at Rempex Michael Dudley Pharm. D, said that industry-academic partnerships would be a very important mechanism for developing new antiinfectives for development.

“Rempex is looking forward to working with the MIPS team on identifying new drug candidates to meet the serious challenge of antibiotic resistance," Dr Dudley said.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America has identified a 'hit-list' of six multidrug-resistant bacteria as being the most difficult to treat. These bacteria will be targeted by the MIPS researchers and their Rempex collaborators in California.