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Manchester-led team wins funding to help combat MRSA superbugs

06 Dec 2016

A research team led by the University has been awarded five million euros to help develop a new strain of antibiotic which could help combat the highly resilient MRSA 'superbugs'

The funding will drive ground-breaking research in synthetic biology by using “microbial cell factories” to create high-value pharmaceutical ingredients.

A result of this innovative process will be the production of important chemicals, such as type II polyketide tetracyclines, that can ultimately be used against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections (MRSA).

The potentially deadly MRSA superbugs are a group of bacteria that is resistant to a number of antibiotics and are hard to treat. They can be spread easily in hospitals and be carried on the skin and inside the nostrils and throat.

Professor Eriko Takano, from the School of Chemistry, together with colleague Professor Rainer Breitling, has been awarded the five million euro Horizon 2020 grant from the European Commission to support TOPCAPI (Thoroughly Optimised Production Chassis for Advanced Pharmaceutical Ingredients).  

“This funding award will help drive developments addressing an important global challenge to help control the spread of MRSA – this is a very exciting project and will have a wide range of benefits,” said Professor Takano.   

Another strand to the project will be to support the development of a new topical anti-acne drug currently in phase two clinical trials.

The pan-European project will be carried out by a consortium of six academic partners from five institutions: The University of Manchester (coordinating), Inbiotec (Spain), Fundación MEDINA (Spain), University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), University of York, together with the three business partners: Explora Biotech S.r.l. (Italy), Naicons S.r.l. (Italy), and Acies Bio d.o.o. (Slovenia).

“The partnership brings together experts in systems and synthetic biology, molecular biology, and applied microbiology, and leading representatives of the biotechnology industry – all united by a shared interest in the improved production of natural products by engineered microbial systems,” added Professor Takano, who is associated with the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

The TOPCAPI project will exploit the natural fabrication power of actinomycetes as microbial cell factories to produce high-value pharmaceutical ingredients, in particular the starter compound for the semi-synthesis of a new topical anti-acne drug currently in Phase II clinical trials, and intermediates for the semi-synthetic production of medically important type II polyketide tetracyclines to be used against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections (MRSA).

TOPCAPI will focus on the engineering of two bacterial host species: Streptomyces coelicolor and Streptomyces rimosus. These host species will be characterized using systems biology approaches, applying integrated data analysis to transcriptomics and metabolomics experiments, combined with predictive mathematical modelling to drive the rapid improvement of these microbial cell factories for industrial drug production using advanced metabolic and biosynthetic engineering approaches.

At the same time, the project will establish an expanded toolbox for the engineering of actinomycete bacteria as production chassis for other high added-value compounds.