Investigators say they've designed a new-and-improved antibiotic

Francesc Rabanal

Francesc Rabanal, a professor in the Department of Organic Chemistry of the University of Barcelona, has spearheaded work on a new prototype compound that he says shows clear activity against both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria.

The research team says they were "inspired" by natural antimicrobial peptides--particularly polymyxins. The polypeptide antibiotic is produced by a Bacillus polymyxa strain but is linked to toxicity issues that make it difficult to work with. The researchers used a disulfide bond in the structure of polymyxin that helped control toxicity.

"The main objective of the study was to design cyclic lipopeptides with a chemically accessible structure, high activity and low toxicity," says Rabanal. "The next step is to optimize this prototype compound in order to obtain a therapeutic candidate that could be developed in clinical trials and get the market."

The advantage for this new series of antibiotics is that it promises to fight drug-resistant strains of Gram-negative bacteria that pose a lethal and growing threat. But they also work against Gram-positive bacteria as well.

There's been more attention on antibiotics in the industry over the past few years, with big outfits like Merck ($MRK) and Roche ($RHHBY) investing in the field while a number of much smaller biotechs have been laboring on their own candidates. But this renewed effort follows a lengthy drought in the clinic that has left physicians with a relatively small weapons cache to fight some deadly pathogens.

- here's the release

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