ABAC Therapeutics and the UPC search for new molecules to deal with bacteria resistant to antibiotics

Thursday 28 April 2022

The collaboration will allow progress in research against what is already considered the next pandemic

  • ABAC Therapeutics, a leading company in the research of new antibiotics, collaborates with the BIOCOM-SC research group and the inLab FIB laboratory, of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya BarcelonaTech (UPC), to develop computer tools focused on discovering antibiotics with specific activity or narrow spectrum, designed to selectively attack pathogenic microorganisms
  • Antibiotics with selective activity will respect the human bacterial flora (microbiome) and the microbiological biodiversity of natural systems. In addition, these innovative drugs will make it possible to fight against multi-resistant microorganisms from a novel approach, based on precision medicine
  • The alliance has materialized with the signing of a collaboration agreement between both entities

Signing of the collaboration agreement between the two entities

Barcelona, ​​April 28, 2022.- The resistance of bacteria to antimicrobial agents is one of the greatest threats to global health and economic development. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), multiresistant bacteria cause 33,000 deaths a year in Europe and it is estimated that, in 2050, they will be the main cause of mortality in the world, claiming more than 10 million lives annually.

An increasing number of infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, sepsis or gonorrhea, are increasingly difficult to treat due to the ability of bacteria to mutate in response to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which end up losing their effectiveness. Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon, although the misuse of these drugs is accelerating the process. A phenomenon that, in addition, supposes in Europe an additional health cost of about 1,500 million euros per year.

A study recently published in the journal 'The Lancet' indicates that, in 2019, around five million people died from causes related to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, of which 1.3 million deaths could be directly attributed to this phenomenon. It is not, therefore, about a future, but about a problem that must be faced today. Experts say that we are facing a “great silent pandemic”, and urge urgent investment in the discovery of new antibiotics and the more appropriate use of existing ones.

Currently, the most prescribed antibiotics are the so-called broad-spectrum ones: drugs that indistinctly attack a great diversity of bacteria without establishing differences between the pathogenic species and the native bacteria of the human microbiome and natural ecosystems, favoring the generation of resistance and an impact negative on the environment.

The loss of effectiveness of broad-spectrum antibiotics, together with the lack of progress in the search for these compounds in recent decades, whose last milestone dates back to 1962, has led ABAC Therapeutics, in collaboration with the Computational Biology and Complex Systems (BIOCOM-UPC) and the inLab FIB UPC –the innovation and research laboratory of the Barcelona School of Informatics (FIB) of the UPC– to implement a new paradigm in the treatment of infectious diseases based on precision. From this new approach, it is committed to the discovery of antibiotics with selective activity or reduced spectrum, more effective and with less environmental impact.

“Without new antibiotics capable of dealing with the threat posed by multi-resistant bacteria, many of the advances made by medicine in this last century will cease to be effective, which will take us back in time to times before the discovery of penicillin. In the not too distant future, any mild infection could lead to death, which is why this change in direction in research is so important”, explained Domingo Gargallo-Viola, CEO and co-founder of ABAC Therapeutics.

Analyzing hundreds of thousands of molecules

The public-private collaboration between ABAC Therapeutics and the UPC aims to identify new compounds with specific activity, respectful of human bacterial flora, and effective against organisms resistant to current antibiotics. Specifically, BIOCOM-UPC will develop mathematical methods to process the results obtained after the evaluation of hundreds of thousands of compounds tested in different in vitro experiments. This innovative platform, based on the PasNas (Pathogen Specific-Narrow Spectrum) algorithm, allows prioritizing compounds with an adequate set of properties, including antimicrobial activity and absence of toxicity in zebrafish cell lines and embryos, necessary requirements to progress towards the following experimentation phases, thus increasing the chances of success in obtaining new antibiotics capable of combating this “silent pandemic”.

The research is led by Dr. Domingo Gargallo-Viola, from the ABAC company, and researchers Daniel López-Codina, from BIOCOM-UPC, and Albert Obiols, head of Data Science and Big Data at inLab FIB.

From left to right, Albert Obiols, Dr. Domingo Gargallo-Viola and Daniel López-Codina

Daniel López-Codina has highlighted that “the proliferation of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are resistant, multi-resistant and extremely resistant to drugs is clearly one of the most important challenges in the field of health. It is a privilege to be able to work with Dr. Domingo Gargallo-Viola, one of the best specialists in the search for specific antibiotics or antimalarials, and to contribute our knowledge to face this challenge. In the BIOCOM-UPC group we have been working in microbiology for decades and this allows us to understand the experimental work of ABAC Therapeutics, making it possible to introduce the quantitative perspective. We have developed a methodology to transform the results of the experimental work into indices and parameters in order to facilitate the selection of molecules that offer the possibility of being of interest”

For his part, Albert Obiols explained that “the project is very ambitious and represents an important challenge with a clear social responsibility. Without an intensive analysis of the data obtained in the laboratory it would be very difficult to reach any kind of conclusion. This is inLab FIB's contribution to the project and demonstrates the need to apply computing to obtain innovative solutions: we are delighted to be able to help make decisions in a field so different from ours through data analysis and visualization."

This alliance has materialized in the official act of signing the agreement, in which Domingo Gargallo-Viola participated; Daniel López-Codina, researcher at BIOCOM-UPC; Albert Obiols, head of the ABAC project at inLab FIB; Ernest Teniente, director of inLabFIB; Josep Fernández Ruzafa, dean of the FIB, and Daniel Crespo, rector of the UPC.

The fight against malaria, origin of the collaboration

The collaboration of the microbiologist Domingo Gargallo-Viola with the BIOCOM-UPC research group dates back to 2010: specifically, to a project to search for antimalarial drugs that resulted in a doctoral thesis, prepared by Jordi Ferrer Savall, under the direction by Daniel López-Codina and Joaquim Valls. It analyzed how to optimize protocols for in vitro cultures of cells infected by Plasmodium falciparum, one of the parasites that cause malaria, key to the development of new drugs. The thesis won the second prize in the contest for the best doctoral theses in science, organized by the Conference of Rectors of Madrid Universities (CRUMA), in 2011.

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