Described by the WHO as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today”, antibiotic resistance has been largely driven by the over-use and misuse of antibiotics.

The recent O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance estimates that by 2050 the global cost of antibiotic resistance will rise to $100 trillion and account for 10 million deaths a year, with drug resistant infections killing more people than cancer. There is now a global effort to find new families of antibiotics.

At the forefront of this fight against antibiotic resistance is a partnership between the UK’s premier industrial biotechnology company, Ingenza Ltd, and Dr Mathew Upton, Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology at Plymouth University Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

The partnership between Plymouth University and Ingenza Ltd has been crucial to solving a major hurdle that has previously prevented progression of other new antibiotics. Building on recent success, the project has now received a £933,000 funding boost from Innovate UK – and in the words of Dr Upton, has taken his research “to a new level”.

“Working with Ingenza has progressed our research to a new level. Ingenza has an excellent and highly collaborative approach. We feel this cooperation has been more productive than the kind of relationship we could have realised with other companies, who might have attempted this work as a service contract”. Dr Mathew Upton, Plymouth University Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology

Through the collaboration, which began in 2015, the researchers have developed a new antimicrobial agent, epidermicin, which has unique and potent activity against MRSA, a leading pathogen causing infections in the community and in hospital patients. Between 2015 and 2017, the team developed new ways of producing epidermicin, which could be used as a nasal spray to treat a number of infectious diseases, including those caused by MRSA. High yield production of these antibiotics has only been possible using Ingenza’s unique, innovative biotechnology solutions.

“Ingenza has really engaged with our research and its endorsement has meant we have been able to escalate the work” Dr Upton said. “It has also meant we have been able to start exploring new avenues. Our success and reputation for working together productively has opened up new research opportunities, with recent funding for two PhD students investigating novel antibiotics from bacteria living in deep sea sponges”.

Mat Upton continued: “Our collaboration with Ingenza and the National Physical Laboratory could deliver globally significant health benefits, tackling antibiotic resistance. Ours is a unique consortium and extremely well-placed to take forward joined-up discovery, development and manufacture in ways which have not been done before.”

With the funding, over the next three years, the team will work with experts at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and IBM, using artificial intelligence methods to design in silico novel antibiotics related to epidermicin. They will then investigate their activity against key pathogens, including those listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as ‘priority threats’. Ingenza will engineer systems for the production of promising candidate antibiotics that can be progressed into clinical trials.

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.