Plymouth University and Ingenza to develop production system for new antibiotic

The partners will develop epidermicin, which is effective against MRSA and other bacteria

Researchers from Plymouth University in the UK are collaborating with Scotland-based biotechnology and synthetic biology business Ingenza, to develop a scalable microbial production system for epidermicin, a new class of antibiotic being developed for use against infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Dr Mathew Upton, Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences, is leading the research team.

He said: 'This partnership will support the development of an exciting new family of antibiotics that rapidly kill harmful bacteria, even at low doses. These groundbreaking new medicines have huge potential to save lives, because they kill bacteria that cause some of the most significant diseases for which there are very few antibiotics left.'

Antibiotic resistance has been identified as one of the biggest threats to global human health and it is estimated that antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms cause more than two million infections in the US each year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths and a cost of US$34bn.

The recent O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance estimates that by 2050 the global cost of antibiotic resistance will rise to $100 trillion and account for an extra 10 million deaths a year, with infectious diseases killing more people than cancer.

This partnership will support the development of an exciting new family of antibiotics that rapidly kill harmful bacteria

The Plymouth University/Ingenza collaboration will work towards developing effective ways to produce epidermicin, a new antimicrobial agent, which has the potential to be trialled in humans for diseases such as MRSA as a nasal spray.

Upton added: 'Epidermicin is a stable, 51 amino acid peptide originally found in Staphylococcus epidermidis, which is effective against gram-positive bacteria such as staphylococci, streptococci and enterococci. It is more potent than existing antibiotics, is non-toxic and represents a new tool in the arsenal of antibiotic medications. However, epidermicin is produced in very low amounts in its native biological host and synthetic chemical production of such peptides is prohibitively expensive, which was a big stumbling block for its use in clinical situations.

'We spoke to Ingenza about using its cutting-edge inABLE technology to produce commercially viable amounts of epidermicin in an alternative biological production host system.'

In addition, and to test its effectiveness for other bacterial infections where treatment options are becoming limited, the Plymouth team plans to investigate how epidermicin in ointment form performs in treating superficial skin infections in mice. By showing that it works on a variety of diseases and in a number of forms, researchers will be able to show that not only could epidermicin be a versatile addition to the healthcare arsenal, but that it also has commercial viability.

Upton added: 'No new classes of antibiotics have been discovered for 30 years and there is a critical need for new antibiotics to treat infections caused by resistant bacteria. If we don’t do this, we risk returning to the time before antibiotics where minor infections could be fatal and routine surgery is not possible. The project will develop methods for producing epidermicin in large amounts, with the ‘lead’ drug investigated for use in human clinical trials for reducing infection following surgery.'

The two companies are working together with the support of an award from the Innovate UK Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst scheme.

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