Harvard chemists charge ahead with a simple platform for antibiotic drug development

Bacteria culture

Antibiotic drug resistance is set to become one of the greatest global threats to healthcare as gold-standard drugs that previously worked, such as colistin, are beginning to fail. Harvard chemists have designed a new platform for antibiotics development, hoping to fend off the so-called postantibiotic era.

Andrew Myers, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology, along with his team at Harvard University, published their work in Nature earlier this week.

While many conventional antibiotic drugs take advantage of the 60-year-old naturally occurring drug erthryomycin as a backbone to newer macrolide antibiotic development, Myers’ team uses a wholly synthetic platform "where we assemble eight (chemical) building blocks by a simple process to make macrolide antibiotics." 

In the Nature article, the team said this enabled them to make "new compounds in fewer steps than was previously possible."

Shortlisting potential drug candidates in fewer steps is critical given the current funding situation for antibiotic drug development. Myers praises the contributions from a Harvard alum and his wife, as well as Harvard’s Blavatnik Accelerator Fund. Myers previously launched Macrolide Pharmaceuticals, which has licensed the synthesis platform and plans to commercialize novel antibiotics for life-threatening infections, with help from Harvard’s Office of Technology Development.

Myers said their platform "is an early effort” and appreciates the incoming validation work on the 350 potential candidates, but he admits “we have a lot of work ahead of us."

In a Harvard Gazette story, Myers said he was “really pleased this paper is out. My students worked unbelievably hard to make this happen. But if this is where this ends, I won't be satisfied. Our objective from day one was to have a drug in the clinic."

- here’s the Harvard Gazette story
- read the journal abstract