Has New Zealand helped find the world's next antibiotic?
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues of modern times. Antibiotics are needed to combat bacterial infections, but an arms race between humans and bacteria sees an increasing number of bacteria surviving treatment with our current antibiotics, leading to the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that are difficult or impossible to treat. Every year 700,000 people die of resistant infections – a truly shocking figure.
“New antibiotics are desperately needed around the world. Studies have estimated if we don’t do anything about antimicrobial resistance, by 2050, 10 million people will be at risk every year – at a cumulative cost of $100 trillion. So the numbers are scary,” Dr Ghader Bashiri, an Auckland Medical Research Foundation funded researcher, reveals.
“Resistant infections are difficult to treat, and require costly and sometimes toxic medications. Despite the urgent demand for new antibiotics, the antibiotic pipeline has failed to keep pace with the escalation of drug-resistance, with only nine new antibiotics approved between 2005 and 2014.”
Ghader’s research is focused on finding new targets and processes in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. The collaborative project brings together a team of talented researchers from University of Auckland, Auckland City Hospital and a Chinese research group, with the aim of developing an effective technology to produce large quantities of a newly-discovered compound that shows promising antibacterial properties.
“We are excited, as we can show that this antibiotic outperforms current ‘last resort’ antibiotics, however the amount that we can get from its natural source is very limited. The next step is to establish an innovative technology to produce these on a larger scale,” says the biochemist from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. This platform technology will be of global interest, given the production of new antibiotics is urgently required worldwide.
“New Zealand, just like any other country, is also at risk. The use and misuse of antimicrobial medicines, as well as international travel and trade, are the key drivers in the spread of resistance, leading to the increased morbidity and mortality in our community. That’s why we believe working on new generations of antibiotics is incredibly important.” Ghader has funding for two years from the AMRF, an investment that was integral to progressing his work.
“We want to use pioneering methods to produce this antibiotic in the lab, that we hope will lead to creating a large number of antibiotics from this particular family. We have already proved that these work. The funding that we’ve obtained through AMRF is crucial to establish our cutting-edge methodologies.”
The antibiotic the team has identified is produced by bacteria in soil, that “produces compounds that could kill other bacteria but not themselves,” Ghader says. “There are millions of bacteria competing against each other for the nutrients, and whatever they might need.”
Born and raised in Iran, Ghader came to New Zealand in 2004 to do his PhD. He now lives in Auckland with wife, Zahra, and two Kiwi daughters, Sevin and Sevda. Ghader says the AMRF funding not only provides Kiwis a better chance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, it also has the potential to make a global impact. In addition, the funding from the AMRF helps Ghader train the next generation of scientists in New Zealand.
“Training and keeping talented young scientists in New Zealand is a priority for me; keeping our hard-working and innovative research thinkers here, retaining their amazing ideas and dedication to benefit New Zealand.”