Feature - New Weapons Identified in the Battle Against Hospital Superbugs
For the first time in decades researchers have announced the discovery of new antibiotics that use a truly novel approach in attacking bacteria. The grid-powered drug searches were conducted by a spin-out company from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. E-Therapeutics found three new drugs that are effective against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, such as that scourge of hospitals, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
The drugs entered clinical trials in February and should be available for use within two to three years. The techniques that enabled this discovery were developed by the UK e-Science Programme, coordinated by the UK’s Research Councils and the Department of Trade.
“With these techniques we can search through all the data, warts and all, very rapidly and identify candidates within a fraction of the time it would take using conventional drug discovery methods,” says Malcolm Young, chairman of e-Therapeutics and pro-vice chancellor at Newcastle University.
Drug searching involves working with large amounts of data on proteins and chemicals held in different databases. Gaining access to and integrating this data requires managing data held in different formats and with different names. Many calculations need to be performed rapidly to test out all the possibilities. This would exhaust local computing resources, so Young’s team use computing clusters, database servers and a 2,400 node Condor grid from the North-East Regional e-Science Centre located at Newcastle University.
“Drug discovery is a search problem,” says Young. “Conventional drug discovery is running out of steam because the search methods employed to date are so inefficient.”
Network security may seem to have little to do with drug discovery, but it was research to find out where networks are most vulnerable that led to the discovery of the new antibiotics. Inside a cell, proteins interact with other proteins forming a network that makes the cell function. In most networks—and cells are no exception—some nodes are more important to the network’s integrity than others. After these key proteins are discovered, researchers must find out which chemicals target the vital proteins in the bacterium while leaving the vital proteins of a person alone.
The techniques are also being taken up in the search for new drugs from the Amazon rainforest. E-Therapeutics plans to test substances extracted from rain forest plants in Brazil for their efficacy against a range of diseases.
To learn more visit the Newcastle University Web site.
Source Newcastle University