More than 30 European universities and companies, led by GlaxoSmithKline, are joining forces in a six-year programme funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) for the sum of EUR 85 millions with the aim of developing new antibiotics against Gram-negative pathogens. The programme is called ENABLE (European Gram-Negative Antibacterial Engine). The University of Liège, with its Centre for Protein Engineering (CIP), is the only Belgian university to collaborate closely in this ambitious programme to discover new antibiotics, which is the largest one in Europe.
The antibiotic crisis
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is currently a major public health issue. In Europe, like anywhere else in the world, this problem comes at a cost, to society and the economy: 25,000 deaths a year through septicaemia and an increase in EUR 1.5 billion in treatment costs. Even though there is a proven need for new antibacterial drugs in clinical environments, only two new classes of antibiotics have been brought to market in the past 30 years. The discovery and development of new antibiotics does indeed pose significant scientific, clinical and financial challenges.
Currently, the priority is to be able to effectively treat infections produced by Gram-negative bacteria, for instance E-coli, whose resistance to the antibiotics used in clinical environments is growing rapidly.
A public-private partnership
In response to these obstacles, the European Commission and major pharmaceutical companies (through EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations) have jointly launched the New Drugs for Bad Bugs (ND4BB) programme, a series of projects aimed at circumventing the current bottlenecks in the development and effective use of new antibiotics.
The ENABLE project, the third in the series of projects supported by ND4BB, spans 13 countries and includes 34 partners (universities and pharmaceutical companies) whose mission is to set up a platform to research and discover new antibiotics. This consortium has set itself the objective of increasing the number of active ingredients that can lead to candidates tested in phase I clinical trials. More precisely, it aims to identify three new lead ingredients by 2019, two new candidates with an antibiotic activity and a molecule tested in the preclinical phase and in phase I clinical trials.
Within the ENABLE consortium, the Centre for Protein Engineering at ULg will mainly work with the University of Oxford in order to study the molecular interactions between the derivatives of lactivicin and a class of bacterial enzymes belonging to the family of PBPs (Penicillin Binding Proteins).