Rhodes University will be at the helm of what is hoped to become groundbreaking research into the development of new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant bacterial pathogens.
The international research project will bring together the brightest minds from 12 higher education and research institutions in SA and five from the UK.
The three-year, £1,5m (about R34,3m), project aims to discover novel compounds from natural sources that have the potential to be developed into new antimicrobial compounds to combat drug-resistant bacterial pathogens.
All the provinces universities and the SA Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity are part of the research consortium which seeks to establish an antibiotic accelerator hub to significantly boost capacity for the discovery of new antibiotics.
Their focus will be on unexplored, biodiversity-rich habitats, including deep-sea and polar environments, offering real potential for new “natural product”-derived drugs.
The project also aims to support future growth in the bio-economies of both countries, ensuring fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of any new drugs arising from the research.
Rhodes University’s SARChI professor, Rosemary Dorrington, said she hoped the partnership would establish a regional centre for drug discovery in the province.
“This initiative will lay the foundation for a multidisciplinary drug discovery platform in a region known to be a terrestrial and marine biodiversity hotspot.
“The establishment of a natural products research network representing 12 SA partner institutions will provide unprecedented access to the chemical diversity of our extraordinarily rich natural resources,” Dorrington said.
Antimicrobial resistance is widely regarded as one of the greatest threats to global public health, the impact of which is particularly severe in developing countries.
In addition to the growing list of bacterial pathogens known to be resistant to treatment, there is increasing concern over sexually-transmitted infections caused by resistant Neisseria gonorrhoea.
The professor in medical microbiology at the University of Plymouth, Mat Upton, who is leading the project from the UK, said: “We know there is an urgent global need to accelerate the discovery of new antimicrobial drugs and bring them to market, and this project brings together expertise from the UK and SA to create the infrastructure for that to happen.
“Natural products and their synthetic analogues are the basis for most antibiotics in clinical use today, and the hope is that this collaboration will go some way towards unlocking the potential resources contained in marine and terrestrial biota in SA, one of the world’s most biodiverse places.”
The project is funded by the Newton Fund through the Antibiotic Accelerator Initiative of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council (MRC) and SA MRC.