Imperial College London

Partnership with Japanese pharma firm takes aim at hard to treat infections

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Salmonella spp. invading human cells

The project will focus on hard to treat infections (Pictured are Salmonella spp. invading human cells)

Imperial researchers are partnering with Japanese pharmaceutical firm Shionogi as part of an effort to tackle hard to treat infections.

In what will be the first collaboration between the Osaka-based company and the College, Shionogi will fund two post-doctoral positions for two years within the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection (CMBI) at Imperial.

The partnership will see CMBI researchers Dr Sophie Helaine and Dr Andy Edwards lead the efforts to investigate mechanisms that make some infections so difficult to treat. In addition to the specific focus on biological mechanisms, the researchers hope to have a wider impact in terms of antimicrobial resistance.

Bacterial infections are caused by pathogens, which invade the body and multiply. While many effective drug treatments are available, such as antibiotics for bacterial infections, some infections are harder to treat, notably due to rising levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – with pathogens becoming more resilient to treatments, increasingly rendering the drugs ineffective.

A delegation from Shionogi visit Imperial College London in 2016
A delegation from Shionogi visit Imperial College London in 2016

Dr Helaine’s research into bacterial pathogens has focused on persister cells. Pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella can sometimes persist in the body in a dormant state, surviving the treatment, but then awake later on causing a relapse of the infection.

“This collaboration is the result of extensive conversations between Imperial and Shionogi,” said Dr Helaine. “The additional support of industry partners will enable us to intensify our efforts to tackle hard to treat infections, which could ultimately help reduce the numbers of patients with infections for which existing antimicrobial treatments no longer work.”

Dr Edwards, whose work focuses on the molecular basis of hard to treat infections, including how bacteria evolve resistance to drugs, added: “Despite the pace of biomedical advances and an arsenal of drugs to combat infections, some pathogens remain difficult to treat. Only through a better understanding of how these organisms attack, infect and persist in the human body will we be able to develop new methods to treat them effectively. This new venture with Shionogi is another step towards this goal.”

An Imperial delegation visiting Shionogi in Osaka, 2017
An Imperial delegation visiting Shionogi in Osaka, 2017

The new collaboration is the result of discussions between the two partners which began in 2015 at the launch of the Antimicrobial Research Collaborative, and resulted in a delegation from Shionogi visiting Imperial in 2016.

Dr Helaine and Dr Edwards formed part of a subsequent Imperial visit to Osaka Japan in 2017 to develop the research plan, with support from Professor Alison Holmes and Professor Ramesh Wigneshweraraj and the Faculty of Medicine Corporate Partnerships team. The visit was supported by the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Proximity to Discovery programme.

Dr Takeshi Shiota, Head of Pharmaceutical Research Division from Shioniogi, said: “Delivering continuously new antibiotics to medical fields is one of Shionogi’s missions, and we place high importance on the proper use of antibiotics to tackle antimicrobial resistance. 

“Shionogi and Imperial College London scientists will work together on elucidating mechanisms of formation and regrowth of dormant, antibiotic tolerant bacteria. This could lead to the development of effective therapies to reduce the risk of relapsing or chronic infections and the emergence of antibiotic resistance during treatment.”

This collaboration will benefit from MRC investment in facilities at the CMBI which in 2017 were renewed for five more years.

Image: Salmonella Bacteria - NIAID / National Institutes of Health

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Ryan O'Hare

Ryan O'Hare
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Antibiotics, East-Asia, Strategy-collaboration, Postdoctoral-researchers, International, Infectious-diseases
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