UK scientists use DNA "decoy" to fight superbugs
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON (Reuters) - A new genetic "decoy" system could revolutionize development of antibiotics to fight drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA and speed their path to market, British scientists said on Monday.
A team from the John Innes Centre, which specializes in plant and microbial science, said they had proven that by taking a short stretch of DNA from a bacterium and delivering it with an existing antibiotic they could switch off drug resistance.
"The DNA sequence acts as a decoy, disrupting gene expression and blocking resistance," Michael McArthur of the Norwich-based institute said. "We are putting genetic information directly into drugs."
The researchers will published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal shortly.
The scientists have also patented a way of finding decoys in bacteria without necessarily having to know the genes involved. This should allow the development of effective new drugs against any bacterium within a couple of years, they said.
Commercially, the new approach could be attractive to drug manufacturers, since it may allow existing antibiotics to be patented as a new medicine when they are combined with a decoy.
"Ours is not a traditional pharmaceutical approach and provides a completely new challenge to bacteria," McArthur added.
The scientists plan to develop the technology through a spin-out company Procarta Biosystems Ltd (www.procartabio.com).
The development comes at a time of increased interest in antibiotics among pharmaceutical companies, following years of relative neglect as a low-growth area.
Only 10 new antibacterials have been introduced since 1998, of which just two were truly novel.
But the emergence of superbugs such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which are resistant to most existing medicines, has increased the need for alternative treatments and changed the economic incentive for firms.
GlaxoSmithKline Plc, AstraZeneca Plc and Novartis AG are among companies to have recommitted to the area recently.
MRSA is common in hospitals, where it can killed weakened patients.
The John Innes Centre, which has a staff of more than 800, is an independent body but receives grants from Britain's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
(Editing by Quentin Bryar)