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Combating killers: Researchers create tool in the fight to find antibiotics to treat superbugs

Researchers are studying leafcutter ants to help find new antibiotics Photo: ITV News Anglia

Norfolk scientists are part of a drive to encourage the development of new antibiotics.

Researchers at the John Innes Institute, have already been exploring the possibility of deriving new drugs from studying bacteria found on leafcutter ants. While, colleagues have also been exploring whether forest soil samples could lead to new drugs.

Now they've teamed up with other institutions to create a tool listing compounds that could lead to new superbug killing drugs.

10m
Estimated number of global fatalities caused by drug-resistant infections by 2050.

It comes amid global concern that some drugs used to fight infections are losing effectiveness.

A new paper outlining the new database, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, states:

"The current state of antibiotic discovery, research and development is insufficient to respond to the need for new treatments for drug-resistant bacterial infections."

The database, AntibioticDB, comes after a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, the John Innes Centre and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

20
Number of years it can talk to research and develop a new antibiotic drug.

It details antibacterial compound discoveries that were once-promising leads but, for various reasons, the research has stopped or stalled.

Lead author Professor Laura Piddock, of the University of Birmingham's Institute of Microbiology and Infection, said: "There is no doubt that the antibiotic pipeline needs revitalisation; however, the answer may be not only the development of new drugs, but also reinvestigating compounds previously discontinued.

"We wanted to establish the current status of the drug-discovery pipeline in antibiotic development - particularly to look at compounds that might have been dropped in the past to see if they could be resuscitated. We also went back to 1960 and uncovered details of old compounds and drugs that were not developed. These could form the basis for new development to treat today's infections."

– Professor Tony Maxwell, of the John Innes Centre

Rebecca Lo, a post-graduate researcher from the University of East Anglia, who carried out work on the project while she was an intern at the John Innes Centre, added: "It would be fantastic if the database could stimulate new initiatives to investigate forgotten antibiotics."

In recent years, there has been a UK drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance.

If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then key medical procedures - including gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements and chemotherapy - could become too dangerous to perform.

Health leaders from around the world have raised serious concerns about the growing resistance to antimicrobial drugs. These are the drugs which destroy harmful microbes. Antibiotics are the best known of these drugs, but there are others - such as antivirals, antimalarial drugs and antifungals.