UQ research hones in on new tuberculosis drugs

University of Queensland scientists are honing in on drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) in a project which could lead to new antibiotics.

The UQ team has identified four new classes of compounds which act against TB bacteria, and hopes commercialisation activities could begin within two to three years.

Dr Antje Blumenthal from the UQ Diamantina Institute (UQDI) said the team would now build on that research by prioritising and optimising the most promising potential drug candidates.

“This will include an assessment of these compounds to identify which are the most effective, safe and unlikely to be compromised by drug resistance,” Dr Blumenthal said.

Professor Rob Capon from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said the compounds were identified by screening thousands of extracts from microorganisms and marine organisms.

“Activity against TB bacteria including multi-drug-resistant strains is being confirmed,” Professor Capon said.

“Importantly, these new chemicals hold out the prospect of acting in new ways against TB, so they are not compromised by existing drug resistance mechanisms.”

TB remains a global health emergency with nine million new cases of active disease and 1.5 million deaths registered every year.

Current treatment for TB is a combination of four drugs developed in the 1940s and 1960s which have significant side effects and must be taken for at least six months to achieve a cure.

Dr Blumenthal said this contributed to poor patient compliance, particularly in the developing world.

“That is why we are seeing recurring disease and multi-drug-resistant TB becoming such a serious problem,” Dr Blumenthal said.

The Australian Government Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation program has co-funded $250,000 for the $500,000 University of Queensland project.

Dr Blumenthal said the grant had come at a critical time.

“Many innovative research discoveries do not become new drugs because of difficulties in funding pre-clinical and proof-of-concept studies, so we are excited that this support will enable us to conduct these critical studies.”

Once the most promising candidates are identified, the UQ team will work with UQ’s commercialisation arm, UniQuest, on options for drug development.

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