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Research / Discovery

Scientist seeking antibiotics to counter bioterrorism

November 1, 2013
By Tony Phifer

Ric Slayden is working with researchers at a pharmaceutical company, Cal-Berkeley to find treatments for deadly bacteria.

A CSU expert in developing drugs to foil the world’s most dangerous pathogens is part of a nationwide scientific team seeking antibiotics that the U.S. military can use to counter bioterrorism.

CSU researcher Richard Slayden and his colleagues have received a $13.5 million grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, to discover drugs that can effectively treat soldiers infected by lethal bacteria. The researchers hope their project will lead to discovery of antibiotics with wide application for military and civilian populations.

Three-pronged research

Slayden is working with researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and Anacor Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company that develops novel small-molecule therapeutics.   

“This really is a tip-top team working on this project,” said Slayden, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology and co-director of the Center for Environmental Medicine. “The immediate goal is treating our men and women who are serving, but there are many possible benefits beyond that in regard to difficult-to-treat, medically important bacterial pathogens.”

Ric Slayden, co-director of the CSU Center for Environmental Medicine, is part of a nationwide team working on a Department of Defense grant.Slayden said he and fellow scientists will work to create drugs that are capable of combatting pathogens that continually develop resistance to existing antibiotics. These dangerous pathogens are capable of evading host defenses and changing physical and biochemical characteristics for drug tolerance.

CSU will do final testing

Anacor, based in Palo Alto, Calif., will develop compound structures that CSU will test for effectiveness in treatment of bacterial disease. Berkeley researchers will study and design 3-D models of how different antibiotics interact with bacteria ribosomes, the organelles that makes a cell’s protein. CSU will then test promising compounds.

“This program promises to provide therapeutic options to service men and women and to the public exposed to certain biodefense pathogens,” Slayden said. “It will provide a foundation for therapeutics to treat emerging and resurgent bacterial pathogens.”

Lab to battlefield in 3 years

The research team will know within a few weeks if the first batch of compounds provided by Anacor shows promise, Slayden said. The goal is to produce a deliverable product to the U.S. Department of Defense in about three years.

“The project is very exciting and will use interesting drug chemistries to develop antibiotics against difficult-to-treat bacterial infections,” said Gregg Dean, head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology. “With his expertise and our world-class facilities, Dr. Slayden is in a perfect position to assess efficacy and toxicity.

“Dr. Slayden is well-known for his interdisciplinary approach to difficult biomedical problems. This collaborative project is another great example and, through Ancor, also has a clear pathway to bring scientific discoveries to patients.”

Potential benefits unlimited

Slayden said the research team has the potential to discover treatments for a number of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis. CSU is a world leader in tuberculosis research.

“This type of collaboration is clearly how we envision doing science in the future,” Dean said. “It will take multiple teams, often at different institutions, coming together to address big biomedical issues.”