Tackling antibiotic resistance with Dr Stefano Donadio


The threat of rising microbial resistance to antibiotics has serious repercussions for the future of global health and requires immediate action. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was a topic that was widely addressed in numerous sessions at FEMS 2017 and is testament to the significant role of microbiology in addressing this global challenge.

To find out more about what is currently being done to tackle AMR, we caught up with Dr Stefano Donadio, FEMS-Secretary General from our Board of Directors, whose biotechnology company, NAICONS Srl., has collaborated closely with Rutgers University New-Brunswick to unearth a new antibiotic effective against drug-resistant bacteria.

How real is the threat of antibiotic resistance and what impact could it have on global health?

“Antibiotic resistance has been observed for each class of antibiotics a few years after its introduction into the market. Over the past few decades, resistance has been increasing in human and animal pathogens, and the incidence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) pathogens has also increased. Antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to global health. On the one hand, infections by MDR pathogens might become impossible to treat, resulting in an increased mortality. On the other hand, some relatively routine surgical procedures (e.g. hip transplants) in which antibiotics are used as prophylaxis might become risky endeavors, resulting in a lower quality of life for people. Overall, the entire healthcare system heavily relies on antibiotics for preventing and curing bacterial infectious diseases in at-risk patients (e.g., hospitalized, immuno-suppressed, under chemotherapy) and will be jeopardized by the lack of treatment options.”

How has your recent collaborative research been addressing the problem of antimicrobial resistance?

“Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon that is being selected for by the use of antibiotics and while it can be somehow controlled, it cannot be totally eliminated. Ultimately, we need new classes of antibiotics not affected by today’s resistance mechanisms. The results from our latest research represent one example of a new chemical class of antibiotics (pseudouridimycin; PUM) with potential broad spectrum and with efficacy in animal models. The results are also important because they show that it is possible to discover nucleoside-analogue inhibitors of bacterial RNA polymerase, something that was thought not to be possible, and that this occurred by screening microbial fermentation extracts, a source of antibiotics that many believe to be exhausted.”

What are the future applications of your new research findings?

“It is a long and costly road before a new chemical class of antibiotics can be transformed into a marketed drug.  We are currently engaged in lead optimization, using synthesis, semi-synthesis, muta-synthesis and enzymatic conversion to impart improved drug-like properties to PUM. Our ongoing collaboration with Prof. Richard Ebright at Rutgers University and the structural information on the PUM-enzyme complex facilitates our efforts. While there is a small probability that any molecule will make it into a marketed drug, we are confident that PUM and/or other new chemical classes derived from NAICONS’ discovery engine will eventually contribute to address the threat of antimicrobial resistance.”

If you are interested in learning more about antimicrobial resistance and global health, you can get involved in our Fighting AMR and One Health campaigns. We also have a Thematic Issue on antimicrobial therapy in FEMS Microbiology Reviews showcasing current research on antimicrobial agents.

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