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Towards new antibiotics

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New routes for antibiotic synthesis

Developing the next generation of antibiotics is no easy task. As microbial pathogens become more resistant to available remedies, the scientific community is called upon to meet the challenge with new antibiotic compounds more efficient and with a broader spectrum.


The EC-funded TNA project set to accomplish two aims: the discovery of novel antibiotics but also the development of new modes of antibiotic production based on cellular components. Since current industrial antibiotic manufacture can be detrimental to the environment and costly, using biotechnology to create "cell factories" appears to be an attractive alternative. Project partners focused on the production of innovative beta-lactam antibiotics based on the modification of existing enzymes involved in beta-lactam synthesis. Beta-lactams contain a specific chemical structure, the beta-lactam ring, and this class of antibiotics includes the penicillins and the carbapenems among others. Beta-lactams prevent cell wall synthesis leading to cell death in pathogens. This attractive property has been exploited for decades as new beta-lactams have been discovered over the years. To date, their industrial-scale production has been based on chemical processes and not on enzymatic synthesis. A research group at the UK's University of Oxford, discovered a series of enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of the beta-lactam ring structure. These enzymes could form the starting point for the large-scale production of beta-lactam antibiotics using cell factories. Intellectual property rights have been granted for parts of this research and the University is keen to exploit the project's potential further. The researchers are seeking to form collaborations in various forms with interested parties, including joint ventures and license agreements.

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