Home / Science / Health /  Old chemical compounds could help develop new antibiotics, say scientists

New Delhi: Chemical compounds that were discarded way back in the 1940s have been found to be useful in developing new antibiotics, recent research has shown.

Scientists at University of Leeds are working on a family of compounds, known as actinorhodins, which was originally identified as having weak antibiotic properties, and was not taken forward for development of functional products. Scientists have said that actinorhodins could now be the basis of a new antibiotic drug.

With modern-day diseases becoming increasingly resistant to existing drugs, biological scientists and chemists at Leeds are now re-examining these old compounds, applying advances in science and technology to test more precisely whether they could still hold the key to a future drug.

“At the time scientists did not fully differentiate the individual compounds within the family when they examined them, leading to a less than precise picture of their properties. This prompted my team to divide the family and select a specific compound (y-ACT) for further evaluation, using an array of 21st century approaches, to assess its potential and to understand how it works against bacteria," Alex O’Neill, professor at from the Antimicrobial Research Centre at the University of Leeds, said.

O’Neill and colleague professor Chris Rayner from the University’s School of Chemistry have published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, and believe the compound is worth serious consideration as the basis for a new drug to combat certain types of bacterial infections.

“y-ACT exhibits potent antibacterial activity against two important representatives of the ESKAPE class of pathogens, which are bacteria that have developed the ability to ‘escape’ the action of existing drugs. A major challenge in tackling the problem of antibiotic resistance is to discover new drugs—our study shows that potentially useful drug candidates can be ‘discovered’ from amongst the antibiotics we already know about," O’Neill said.

“The weak activity previously published for the ACT family as a whole probably explains why this group was not further evaluated, and it is intriguing to think that other potentially useful antibiotic groups are languishing in obscurity in academic journals just needing expert review using modern processes and equipment," he said.

Scientists have said that by studying compounds which have antibacterial properties, as shown by past research, there is scope to fast-track the challenging early stages of drug discovery.

Interestingly, on similar lines, another research of Michael Webb from School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, focused on a compound called pentyl pantothenamide, first assessed in the 1970s. Then, it was found to be able to stop the growth of E.coli bacteria but not completely kill the bacteria, so was never taken into clinical use.

At the time, scientists did not understand how it was able to stop the growth, but Webb and his team have proved it is driven by Vitamin B5, which is used to metabolise energy. Bacteria have to make B5 and a key part of the machinery they use to do so is called the PanDZ complex.

Pentyl pantothenamide targets the PanDZ complex, preventing E.coli from making Vitamin B5 and so starving it of the means to grow. “The results of our latest study open up the possibility of designing new drugs that use the same means to attack E. coli, but in a more effective way," said Webb.

“Until recently, no new antibiotics had been discovered for 25 years. O’Neill’s research is important: it’s providing another way of looking for potential antibiotics and could hold the key to uncovering options that were overlooked before but may be incredibly useful now," he said.

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