£1M project to use food by-products for new antimicrobial drugs

Scientists will use food by-products to make antimicrobial drugs from bacteria, in research led at the University of Strathclyde in collaboration with the University of Surrey and GSK.

The project aims to make antimicrobial production more cost effective and sustainable, delivering a less carbon-intensive process for biomanufacturing. It will also be translatable to other products made by Streptomyces bacteria, such as anti-parasitic, anti-cancer, anti-fungal and immunosuppressant drugs.

The study has received a grant of just under £1.1 million from the UKRI Technology Missions Fund, with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Engineering biology approaches will be utilised to direct antimicrobial-producing bacteria towards the use of food by-products in the production of much-needed drug molecules.

Complex metabolism

Currently, fermentations to produce antimicrobial drugs use expensive, food-grade feedstocks as part of the process. To enable the antimicrobial-producing bacteria to use food by-products, their complex metabolism needs to be engineered to ensure that the high-value drugs are still produced, while utilising the food by-products as a feedstock.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 4.95 million deaths around the world associated with antimicrobial resistance each year and it is predicted to cost an estimated US $100 trillion to the global economy between 2014 and 2050.

Professor Paul Hoskisson, of Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, the lead researcher in the project, said:

There is an urgent need to develop new antimicrobial drugs for the clinic and to improve the production of existing antimicrobials to combat the global antimicrobial resistance crisis. Yet a major challenge in industrial biotechnology is the use and exploitation of sustainable industrial feedstocks for fermentation bioprocesses which deliver greener manufacturing, less carbon intensive processes and cleaner growth, and do not compete with the food chain.

“Our approach will learn from existing industrial strains and use metabolic modelling to inform us on appropriate engineering strategies for the development of new strains of antibiotic producing bacteria.”

Worldwide threat

Professor Claudio Avignone Rossa, Professor of Systems Microbiology at the University of Surrey, said: “Anti-microbial resistance is a worldwide threat to public health. Pathogens that have become resistant to antibiotics can limit our ability to treat common infections and deliver other lifesaving treatments such as chemotherapy. Antimicrobial drugs are available; however, their development and production are costly, it is important that we think innovatively and use our knowledge of bacterial metabolism to overcome this problem.”

The funding has been awarded as part of the UKRI Engineering Biology Mission Award research programme.