$6.9 million quest for new antibiotics from Australia’s unique microbiome

Macquarie University, Media releases

Macquarie University and UWA scientists will join forces with two Australian companies to search for new antibiotics in 500,000 species of Australian microbes.

Background information below.

The project will be supported by a $3 million CRC-P grant announced by Australia’s Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, Senator Zed Seselja.

“We have samples of over 500,000 Australian microbes,” says Dr Ernest Lacey, Managing Director of Sydney-based company, Microbial Screening Technologies (MST), and the leader of the project.

Microbe-covered plates. Image credit: Andrew Piggott

“We’ve collected them from the soil in backyards, in paddocks, and forests. We’ve collected them from insects, plants and animals. We’ve gone everywhere to find Australia’s unique microbiome.”

“Each microbe contains a unique cocktail of metabolites. When we find an interesting new molecule, we’ll be relying on Macquarie University researcher Dr Andrew Piggott and his team to help us to work out its structure and mode of action.”

“Then Dr Heng Chooi from UWA will use genomics to unravel how the microbes assemble these metabolites and then boost their productivity.”

“Advanced Veterinary Therapeutics (AVT) is led by Dr Stephen Page and will focus on animal health potential,” says Dr Lacey.

“The CRC-P Program helps businesses, industries and research organisations to work together on short-term projects to develop practical solutions to challenges in key industry sectors,” Assistant Minister Seselja said at the project launch.

The three-year project, “BioAustralis, towards the future, will harness MST’s unique collection as a source of next-generation antibiotics capable of overcoming microbial resistance.

Microbe-covered plates. Image credit: Andrew Piggott

The project will also provide these new actives, and a library of other unique microbial metabolites, in a ready-to-use format gratis for Australian researchers during the period of the grant.

“Antibiotic resistance is now one of the most serious threats to both human and animal health worldwide,” Dr Andrew Piggott says. He’s an ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University.

“This project will allow us to identify new and more effective antibiotics already at work in nature that are capable of defeating these deadly superbugs,” he says.

“The project collaborators have a long and successful track record of unlocking the hidden biosynthetic potential of microbes,” Dr Lacey says. “As well as identifying new antibiotics, this grant will enable MST to move faster, stronger and more broadly in the development of a unique global niche in the fine chemical market.”

The project’s total value of $6.9 million includes $3.9 million cash and in-kind contributions from participating universities and industry partners, and will support the industry-led collaborative research for up to three years.

Contact information:

MQ contact: Dr Andrew Piggott andrew.piggott@mq.edu.au, 02 9850 8251

MST contact: Dr Ernest Lacey elacey@microbialscreening.com, 02 9757 4515

UWA contact: Dr Heng Chooi, yitheng.chooi@uwa.edu.au, 08 6488 3041

AVT contact: Stephen Page, swp@advet.com.au

Background information:

The lead company, Microbial Screening Technologies (MST) was founded in 1994 by Dr Ern Lacey and is located in Smithfield, Western Sydney. Our laboratory features state-of-the-art facilities. Our staff have expertise in all aspects of microbiology, chemistry and biology essential to microbial drug discovery.

Microbes (bacteria and fungi) produce a vast array of chemicals. These chemicals, known as microbial metabolites, are biologically active and are used by the microbe to modulate their own micro-environment by encouraging some microbes and warding off predators or parasites. Over 50% of all medicines across diverse therapeutic areas, including infection, cancer and immune diseases are derived from microbial metabolites. The microbiome is the richest source of new drugs and ideas man has ever harvested. MST’s library of over 400,000 microbes is harnessed to discover novel (unknown) molecules with potential for therapeutic
use in humans and animals, or biocontrol. In parallel, we produce and market known microbial metabolites as laboratory reagents for research purposes under the trade name BioAustralis. MST is one of only a handful of companies globally in this niche. With over 20 years’ experience and over 120 hundred research publications, Dr Lacey is a leader in field of microbial chemical diversity discovery.

Australian Veterinary Therapeutics (AVT) is an R&D company founded in 2002 by veterinary pharmacologist Dr Stephen Page. Dr Page has over 30 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry developing animal health products and has over 150 product launches to his name. AVT is focused on veterinary anti-infective medicine development and commercialisation.

Our university partners are Dr Andrew Piggott, ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer, Department of Molecular Sciences, Macquarie University, and Dr Yit Heng Chooi, ARC Future Fellow, Molecular Sciences Department, University of Western Australia. Both researchers are emerging leaders in unravelling the potential of microbial chemical diversity as next-gen pharmaceuticals via molecular and genomic research. Drs Piggott and Chooi will harness molecular approaches to accelerate the discovery of novel chemical entities. The collaborators have a long and successful track record of unlocking the hidden biosynthetic potential of microbes.

The current CRC-P grant, BioAustralis, towards the future will fund three objectives – to expand the BioAustralis range of products, to discover novel and ‘lost’ antibiotics to overcome resistance, and to provide the world’s only microbial discovery platform in ready-to-use format gratis for Australian researchers during the period of the grant. In short, the project will enable BioAustralis to move faster, stronger and more broadly in the development of a  unique global niche in the fine chemical market.