U.K. funds creation of antibiotic drug discovery unit

Dundee Scotland
Dundee, Scotland

The United Kingdom’s innovation agency is providing funding to set up an antibiotic drug discovery unit. Innovate UK is supplying the grant to enable the University of Dundee to create a medicinal chemistry laboratory and combine it with its existing drug discovery infrastructure.

Dundee’s drug discovery unit made its name as a bridge between academic and industrial research through partnerships with companies including GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. The Innovate UK grant builds on the more than 10 years Dundee has run the drug discovery unit through the creation of an offshoot focused on antibiotics. Dundee is calling the new Innovate UK-backed operation an antibacterial drug discovery accelerator.

In practice, that means the university is using a close to £1 million ($1.3 million) grant from the U.K. government’s innovation agency to turn existing space into a medicinal chemistry laboratory. The new laboratory will marry up with Dundee’s existing drug discovery capabilities in an attempt to create a pathway that prepares early-stage programs for further development.

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“A crucial gap in the drug discovery process is in the early phase, translating discovery science innovation into 'drug-leads’ that can then be developed for clinical trials and delivery to patients,” Dundee’s Mike Ferguson said in a statement. “We have considerable infrastructure and expertise in drug discovery at Dundee. This award will enable us to build on that and significantly boost our work on bacterial diseases, where drug resistant infections are threatening all countries and adversely impacting the clinical management of patients.”

Dundee has prior experience developing candidates against drug-resistant pathogens. In 2015, a team from the university published details of an antimalarial compound with the potential to treat people infected by parasites resistant to existing medicines. That discovery grew out of work the university performed with Medicines for Malaria Venture.

The Innovate UK grant follows a period in which the U.K. government sought to increase interest in antimicrobial resistance, notably by commissioning ex-Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill to research the topic. However, government interest in the topic has reportedly waned since the Brexit vote led to the installation of a new leadership team. Speaking to Politico earlier this month, O’Neill said members of the new government seemingly show no interest in the topic.