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Prof Laura Piddock 900
Professor Laura Piddock

A new and first of its kind database has been launched listing compounds that could be used to develop new antibiotics in a bid to tackle the global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The new resource, outlined in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, is the result of a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, the John Innes Centre and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

It comes after the World Health Organization in 2009 declared AMR one of the biggest threats to mankind and, if not addressed, by 2050 it could kill millions of people - more than from cancer or road traffic accidents.

The free, open-access, searchable database called AntibioticDB brings together antibacterial compound discoveries that were once-promising leads from the past 40 years which have, for various reasons, been dropped or stalled, and may otherwise be overlooked by drug-development companies.

Lead author Professor Laura Piddock, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Microbiology and Infection, said: “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.

“New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and death.

“One answer to the crisis seems simple: to generate new antibiotics. However, it can take up to 15 years and cost up to $5 billion from the discovery of a compound to progress through pre-clinical and clinical development before a medicine can be licensed and then marketed.

“There is no doubt that the antibiotic pipeline needs revitalization; however, the answer may be not only the development of new drugs, but also re-investigating compounds previously discontinued.

“For this reason, we have developed and populated an easy to use database of antibiotics that can be accessed for free by anybody; we hope this will help both academia and commercial companies with their drug-discovery efforts.”

The database includes links to data on discovery, research and clinical trials, compounds awaiting approval and discontinued compounds, providing a platform for future research, antibiotic discovery and development in the hope this will inspire the lifesaving drugs of tomorrow.

One of the authors of the study, Professor Tony Maxwell of the John Innes Centre, adds: “We wanted to establish the current status of the drug-discovery pipeline in antibiotic development - particularly to look at compounds that might have been dropped in the past to see if they could be resuscitated.

“We also went back to 1960 and uncovered details of old compounds and drugs that were not developed. These could form the basis for new development to treat today’s infections.”

The research team used a range of sources to identify compounds of interest, including key opinion leaders in the pharmaceutical industry and leading agencies in this research area.

Information on each compound or drug was obtained using online searches, literature archives and interviewing prominent experts. Further information such as reasons for the lack of development is also included.

The study highlights examples from the past where drugs have been dropped on safety grounds, only to be re-introduced successfully years later after new research showed them to be safe at different dosages.

While other pay-per-view resources exist for researchers, AntibioticDB is the first free database designed to appeal to small and medium-sized enterprises or academia.

Rebecca Lo, a post-graduate researcher from the University of East Anglia who carried out work on the project while she was an intern at the John Innes Centre, said: “We hope this might lead to more joined-up drug discovery in this area, encouraging companies, academics and governments to work together.

“It would be fantastic if the database could stimulate new initiatives to investigate forgotten antibiotics.”

For more information please contact Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0) 121 414 6681, or contact the press office on +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Farrell et al (2018). 'Revitalizing the drug pipeline: AntibioticDB, an open access database to aid antibacterial research and development'. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.  DOI: 10.1093/jac/dky208
  • The University of Birmingham has one of the biggest teams of microbiologists in the European Union, devoted to tackling the global issue of antimicrobial resistance by carrying out pioneering research to better understand how bacteria cause infection, how antibiotics work, the causes of resistance, prevention of spread of resistant bacteria and finding new ways to treat infections. The University of Birmingham’s Institute of Microbiology & Infection is tackling antibiotic resistance in three ways:
  1. Reviewing drugs that are either already in use for other conditions, or which fell by the wayside during development, but which may offer powerful treatment options for antimicrobial resistant bacteria or fungi.
  2. Working to discover new drugs that may kill or disable microbes directly, or may indirectly convert antibiotic-resistant bacteria into antibiotic-sensitive ones.
  3. Developing completely new approaches that do not rely on antibiotics for dealing with infections. These include novel vaccines and so-called ‘immune-modulatory’ approaches that aim to stimulate the body’s own immune system to eradicate infections more successfully.
  • The British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy is an inter-professional organisation with more than 40 years of experience and achievement in antibiotic education, research and leadership. Dedicated to saving lives through the appropriate use and development of antibiotics, it supports a large global network via workshops, professional guidelines and its own high-impact international journal, The Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
  • The John Innes Centre is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology. Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public. To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing. This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world. The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 
  • The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by Government, BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.