Superdrugs versus Superbugs: Scientists use software to create a new class of antibiotics
Senior IWK-affiliated researchers, Dr. David Byers, Dr. Chris McMaster and Dr. Don Weaver, established the CDDL in 2006. The new research effort was based on Chris and David’s discovery of bacterial cell membranes as a potential target for antibiotic drugs, and Don’s world-leading expertise in cheminformatics (the use of computers to design new medicinal compounds).
Several full-time research associate conduct the intense day-to-day effort required to create, screen, produce and test vast numbers of compounds.
The CDDL’s chief operating officer, Dr. Chris Barden, develops virtual compounds on his desktop computer. He has generated a massive library of roughly 11 million candidate antibiotic compounds. He tests his new inventions against specific target bacteria in virtual ‘in silico’ experiments. When a compound shows antibacterial activity in his computer-based experiments, Chris sends it along to the next stage of drug development: synthesis, or creation, of the real thing.
Organic chemist Dr. Fan Wu is responsible for the critical synthesis stage. He works from Chris Barden’s computer-generated plans to turn virtual compounds into new compounds in the real world. Once he has synthesized the new compound, he hands it over to the team’s molecular biologist, Dr. Annette Henneberry. Annette runs tests on the new compound to see how well it kills the target bacterium. If the compound is effective against the bacterium, it is tested further in pre-clinical experiments.
MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—is a key target for the CDDL researchers. MRSA spreads quickly in hospitals, is difficult to treat, and can lead to deadly complications. In a milestone achievement, the researchers have developed an antibiotic compound that successfully destroys MRSA, with no evidence of toxic side effects. They hope to have their compound tested in human clinical trials soon.
MRSA is not the only bacterium the researchers have in their sights. They are also working on compounds to kill E. coli and Pseudomonas (a dangerous lung infection that afflicts people with cystic fibrosis), as well as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, meningitis, flesh-eating disease, and sepsis.
While antibiotics are a key focus, the CDDL has a broader drug discovery mandate. Other projects include work with the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg on potential new antivirals, a search for new drugs to treat epilepsy and halt neuro-degeneration in Alzheimer disease, and examination of potential drug targets to defeat the malaria parasite.
Cheminformatics and Drug Discovery Lab Profile #2 - Printable PDF