Plectasin: Progress in development of weapon against resistant Staphylococci

Novozymes’ gene technology has made it possible to improve the new antibiotic plectasin and single out a super-variant for further work.

Multi-resistant bacteria are on the rise, but fortunately so is a new weapon which can eliminate them. As hospitals, nursing homes and even nurseries increasingly encounter problems with resistant bacteria, more and more progress is being made in Novozymes’ project to develop a new antibiotic. The substance in question is called plectasin and can treat infections with bacteria which are otherwise resistant to antibiotics.

Better against Staphylococci

Since Novozymes announced last year that it had discovered that plectasin from the fungus Pseudoplectania nigrella (ebony cup) had an antibiotic effect, Novozymes’ gene technology has been used to make this plectasin even better at wiping out Staphylococcus bacteria. Hospitals the world over are increasingly having to do battle with the antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus MRSA, which can cause abscesses, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and even death. Recently MRSA has also made the leap from hospitals to nursing homes, nurseries and private homes.

“A year ago we didn’t know whether we’d actually be able to use our technology to obtain better variants of plectasin,” says Søren Kjærulff, head of the department for antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), of which plectasin is one. “But now we’ve managed to modify the plectasin to make it very active against not only Streptococci but also Staphylococci. This is a major breakthrough, because Staphylococcus bacteria are a growing problem and so represent the biggest potential market for us.”

Furthermore, the fact that Novozymes’ technology can be used on plectasin means that our production apparatus will be able to make it possible to produce plectasin in large quantities.

Lead candidate

Novozymes’ technology has also enabled the identification of a ‘lead candidate’ – a single super-peptide on which we can work as we move into the next phases. This lead candidate was tested and selected from more than 600,000 plectasin variants.

Preclinical trials are now under way and are expected to be completed in 2007. The launch of an actual plectasin product is still seven to eight years off.