Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Analysing wastewater from 100 countries to reduce antibiotic resistance

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is awarding DKK 300 million for five ambitious research projects covering antibiotic resistance and developing better drugs.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health. A new ambitious research project led by experienced researcher Frank Møller Aarestrup will therefore collect and analyse untreated wastewater from more than 100 cities throughout the world with the aim of increasing knowledge on the global prevalence and acquisition of antibiotic resistance. The researchers thus hope to be able to create the basis for new procedures and methods for reducing antibiotic resistance globally and optimizing the use of the most effective antibiotics.

“We hope to show that the prevalence of antibiotic resistance can be monitored in up to half the world’s population. This type of monitoring programme will vastly improve understanding of the prevalence and spread of antibiotic resistance and the measures each country should take,” says Frank Møller Aarestrup, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.

The project is one of five for which the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded DKK 60 million each under its Challenge Programme, which aims to promote world-class research.

Two of the other projects also focus on antibiotic resistance, and the remaining two aim to develop better drugs.

The Foundation has awarded a grant to Peter Eigil Nielsen, Professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine of the University of Copenhagen, for a project that will establish a knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics that hopefully will be able to keep pace with the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby complementing and reinforcing the use of existing antibiotics. Tilmann Weber, Senior Researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability of the Technical University of Denmark, has been awarded a grant for a project that will use innovative screening technologies to identify new potential antibiotics and the genes that code for their biosynthesis.

For research that can support the development of better drugs, the Foundation has awarded grants to Hanne Mørck Nielsen, Professor at the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Copenhagen and to Thomas Lars Andresen, Professor at the Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology of the Technical University of Denmark. Both projects focus on developing new knowledge on and methods for absorbing drugs through the intestines. This will enable drugs currently administered by injection to be orally administered by tablets or capsules, thereby minimizing discomfort, the risk of infection and other side-effects of injection.

Each project will be carried out jointly with several Danish and international collaborators.

The Challenge Programme is the Foundation’s largest regular grant programme. The Foundation awards up to DKK 360 million each year for up to six grants of DKK 60 million each over 6 years. The Challenge Programme’s themes vary each year.

“The Foundation aims to use the Challenge Programme to contribute to supporting and promoting world-class research that focuses on contributing to finding answers to today’s challenges in global technology or health,” says Niels-Henrik von Holstein-Rathlou, Head of Research and Innovation Grants, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Information on the research projects

Global monitoring of antibiotic resistance

Effectively reducing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance and using the best antibiotics requires knowledge based on continually monitoring the prevalence and spread of different types of antibiotic resistance globally. To increase this knowledge, the project will collect and analyse wastewater from cities throughout the world and make the results universally available, including for the public authorities, researchers and citizens. The project will use whole-genome sequencing, a technique that reveals the full DNA profile of bacteria. This will enable the prevalence of all known genes that produce antibiotic resistance to be determined in one operation.

Grant recipient

Frank Møller Aarestrup, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark

Co-applicants

Thomas Sicheritz-Ponten, Professor, Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Department of Bio and Health Informatics, Technical University of Denmark

Ole Lund, Professor, Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Department of Bio and Health Informatics, Technical University of Denmark

Mark E.J. Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

A knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics

This project will use new strategies to develop specific antibiotics to combat the serious and growing threat to health arising from infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. Specifically, the project will exploit and explore the ability of peptides to permeate the cell walls and cell membranes of bacteria, because these peptides may facilitate the development of genetically targeted antibiotics.

“Our vision is to establish a knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics that will keep pace with the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby complementing and reinforcing the use of existing antibiotics,” says Peter Eigil Nielsen.

Grant recipient

Peter Eigil Nielsen, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen

Co-applicants

Anders Løbner-Olesen, Professor, Section for Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen

Anette Hammerum, Senior Researcher, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen

Henrik Franzyk, Associate Professor, Section for Natural Products and Peptides, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen

Producing antibiotics using cell factories

Antibiotic resistance is increasing, and new antibiotics are desperately needed to combat infections. The project group will use innovative screening technologies to identify new potential antibiotics and the genes that code for their biosynthesis. These data will enable the bacteria to be used as cell factories to produce large quantities of antibiotics. The project will identify thousands of unknown genes that are involved in synthesizing antibiotics and will develop new biosynthetic production processes. Most important of all, the project will discover molecules that can potentially be developed into antibiotics.

“Our current antibiotics rapidly become ineffective, subjecting people to the risk of dying from even simple infections. We need to find new antibiotics now – and we need to optimize how we discover them,” says Tilmann Weber.

Grant recipient

Tilmann Weber, Senior Researcher, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark

Co-applicants

Sang Yup Lee, Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon, South Korea; and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark

Bernhard O. Palsson, Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of California, San Diego, United States; and CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark

Olga Genilloud, Scientific Director, Fundación MEDINA, Granada, Spain

New knowledge on transporting drugs in the body

Many life-threatening diseases are controlled effectively by injecting peptide- and protein-based drugs known as biopharmaceuticals. Administering these drugs as tablets would be very advantageous, especially for people with chronic diseases and those who need to take the medicine frequently. However, the challenge is that these drugs are broken down in the intestines, and the amount absorbed by the intestines varies tremendously. Delivering the drugs throughout the body following oral administration is therefore enormously challenging, and there are still no general methods for solving this problem.

“The project focuses on solving the challenges of drug delivery by developing a better and more detailed understanding of how peptide- and protein-based drugs integrate with and are transported across the intestinal membrane and arrive at their target areas. To move towards achieving this ambitious target, the project will develop new unique drug-delivery concepts, technologies and methods. This major project involves advanced chemistry, nanorobots and visualizing the transport of drugs in the body. This will enable us to design and study systems for oral drug delivery of biopharmaceuticals,” says Hanne Mørck Nielsen.

Grant recipient

Hanne Mørck Nielsen, Professor, Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Co-applicants

Knud J. Jensen, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Jesper Glückstad, Professor, Department of Photonics Engineering, Technical University of Denmark

Urs O. Häfeli, Professor, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Canada; and Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

From needles to capsules

Insulin is a medicine that can only currently be administered by using syringes and needles. Injecting insulin causes great discomfort for many people, creates a risk of infection and often requires trained health personnel, which is expensive for society. Developing new methods that enable people to take drugs as capsules instead would be significant the people using the medicine and for society. The greatest impediment to success is that many of the important drugs, especially proteins, are not absorbed by the intestines.

“We want to develop new methods in our new centre that can significantly increase the absorption of pharmaceutical proteins in the intestines so that these drugs can be administered to people as tablets or capsules,” says Thomas Lars Andresen.

Grant recipient

Thomas Lars Andresen, Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark

Co-applicants

Tomas Kirchhausen, Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States

Chris Porter, Professor, Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash University, Australia

Nazila Kamaly, Associate Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark

Henrik Flyvbjerg, Associate Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark

Wayne Lencer, Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States

Further information

University of Copenhagen: Andreas Westergaard, Senior Adviser, andreas.westergaard@sund.ku.dk, +45 5359 3280

Technical University of Denmark: Tore Vind Jensen, Journalist, redaktion@dtu.dk, +45 4525 7878

Novo Nordisk Foundation: Christian Mostrup Scheel, Press Officer, cims@novo.dk, +45 3067 4805