Scientists have long faced difficult challenges as they work to find and design antibiotics that can defeat some of the world’s toughest superbugs, Gram-negative bacteria. Meanwhile, the medical and public health threat posed by these increasingly drug-resistant pathogens is getting worse.
Experts agree that tackling this problem requires targeted, collaborative efforts around the globe, along with other key tactics outlined in The Pew Charitable Trusts’ “A Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery.” To that end, Pew and LifeArc, a medical research charity based in the United Kingdom, are working on separate but complementary initiatives.
In September, Pew launched SPARK, the Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge, an information-sharing platform intended to help fill the knowledge gaps impeding antibiotic innovation. The platform, which is publicly available at no cost, brings together antibiotic discovery data and cutting-edge analytics to help scientists from around the world generate and share new hypotheses.
The collaborative research enabled by SPARK will focus on overcoming the unique challenges of finding drugs that can enter and remain inside Gram-negative bacteria. In the lead-up to the launch, Pew engaged leaders in the field to shape SPARK’s development, and LifeArc scientists were among these key experts.
While Pew’s SPARK provides the information-sharing tool to spur antibiotic discovery, LifeArc is generating data that can be integrated into the platform to enrich the resource for researchers. As part of its collaboration with Canada’s Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), LifeArc is conducting several studies to help measure the concentration of compounds inside Gram-negative bacteria.
One study with CDRD will investigate the physical characteristics of drug compounds that can penetrate the cell wall of a wide range of multidrug-resistant bacteria. By determining the most valuable biophysical properties of these compounds and combining these findings with other work, researchers can maximize the potential for developing new antibiotics that work in the clinic.
LifeArc plans to feed the data generated from its studies into SPARK to help inform researchers’ hypotheses about the properties of compounds that penetrate Gram-negative bacteria. Ultimately these data can be used in the design of new antibiotics.
Overcoming the barriers blocking antibiotic innovation will not happen overnight, but these initiatives each focus on an important component of the antibiotic discovery puzzle. LifeArc provides the puzzle pieces, while Pew brings the scientists to the table to help fit them together.
By sharing information and working together, the antibiotic discovery community can systematically begin to understand the key molecular features of compounds that can overcome the defenses of the toughest bacteria.
Kathy Talkington is director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project. Andy Merritt manages a team of chemists who carry out early stage drug discovery at LifeArc.