Monash research project is one of NHMRC’s ‘Ten of the Best’

Monash research project is one of NHMRC’s ‘Ten of the Best’

5 August 2015

Named by the NHMRC as one of Australia's ten best research projects of 2014.

A Monash team’s work to tackle antibiotic resistance has been named by the NHMRC as one of Australia’s ten best research projects of 2014.

Every year the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announces its ‘Ten of the Best’ Research Projects, chosen from among thousands of NHMRC-funded medical research projects. The initiative highlights outstanding health and medical research projects currently underway in Australia.

Professor Jian Li and his team from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) were recognised for their work to discover new-generation polymyxins. This class of antibiotics has become a last-line option in combating life-threatening Gram-negative ‘superbugs’.

The Monash research comes at a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the three greatest threats to human health. Antimicrobial resistant infections are estimated to kill 700,000 people worldwide each year and, if the current trend continues, this may increase to 10 million people per year by the year 2050, which is 1.8 million more deaths than by cancer (amr-review.org). Furthermore, infections due to antimicrobial resistance could also lead to about $100 trillion in lost output by 2050 worldwide, which is larger than the current world economy.

In Australia, it is estimated that around 200,000 people admitted to hospital each year acquire an infection during their stay and that antibiotic resistance costs the Australian economy more than $1 billion a year in direct health care expenditure.

The NHMRC ‘Ten of the Best’ initiative commends researchers who seek to expand the boundaries of knowledge and discovery, and develop novel ways to tackle ill health.

Professor Li said he was humbled that the project was acknowledged by the NHMRC.

“Over the last three decades there has been a marked decline in the discovery of new antibiotics. By working to develop a new generation of polymyxins, we hope to cure life-threatening infections caused by multidrug-resistant Gram-negative ‘superbugs’, one of the world’s biggest health challenges,” he said.

“I wish to thank the team for all their hard work, particularly Dr Tony Velkov, Professor Roger Nation, Associate Professor Phil Thompson and Dr Kade Roberts. This project started with a corridor chat with Dr Velkov in 2008. Over three years we designed and evaluated more than 120 novel polymyxin-like compounds. Many of these new compounds exhibited highly promising activity against the ‘superbugs’ we are targeting,” Professor Li said.

Excitingly, the NHMRC project has led to a partnership with an international pharmaceutical company, as well as funding through the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) worth over US $4.4 million (2012-2017) to support Professor Li’s antibiotic discovery program.

In June 2014, when President Barack Obama welcomed Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the White House, Professor Li’s two NIH grants were highlighted as one of six key examples of successful collaborations between the United States and Australia.

In the ongoing research, Professor Li and his team will identify one particularly promising compound, plus one backup, for an Investigational New Drug application. If that application is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the compound will progress to a Phase 1 clinical trial.

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