New anti-infective agents discovered by HIPS licensed

Biopharmaceutical company Spero Therapeutics aims to develop medicines from these substances

Traditional antibiotics work by suppressing the growth of pathogens. This is necessarily associated with the development of resistance. Scientists of the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) recently discovered a group of substances that utilise a new mechanism of action: They block the bacterial communication pathways. As a result, the pathogens can no longer form virulence factors. Spero Therapeutics just procured the license for these substances and aims to continue the development of these agents in co-operation with the team of researchers at the HIPS.

The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is one of the most common causes of hospital-acquired infections and it is resistant to many current antibiotics. The mechanism of action of these antibiotics is that they stop bacterial growth. This is a radical approach with a major drawback: It leads to the formation of resistance. Scientists at the HIPS, a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig, recently developed some substances that may allow this drawback to be circumvented. "The substances we discovered are capable of blocking the communication of bacteria with each other. Once the bacteria are unable to communicate, they no longer form virulence factors, which makes them harmless," says Prof Rolf Hartmann, who is the head of the Drug Design and Optimisation Department at the HIPS.

Aiming, in the long term, to develop medicines based on these substances, the researchers and Ascenion, the technology transfer partner of the HZI, stipulated a licensing agreement with Spero Therapeutics. The US company acquired the commercial rights to these substances. "The aim of all involved parties is to make new medicines against resistant germs available to patients as soon as possible," says Dr Sabina Heim, the Technology Manager of Ascenion.

This collaboration demonstrates again how important co-operations with industry are for research centres. "Only co-operations of this kind allow us to develop the substances we discover such that they become ready for application in medicine in the long-term," says Prof Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI. "The transfer of insights from basic research to clinical application is a major focus of the HZI. We are very happy to see that this worked so well in this case."

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