Developing new compounds to combat viral pathogens and new compounds and peptides targeting highly drug resistant bacterial pathogens.
The Maurice Wilkins Centre’s extensive network of researchers and multidisciplinary teams will develop novel strategies to combat infectious diseases, such as COVID-19 and highly drug-resistant bacteria that are of significant concern in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Developing new therapies for COVID-19
The recent outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic has led to a global public health crisis. To date, there have been 6.32M deaths and over 538M confirmed cases of COVID-19 . While widespread vaccination is currently a key focus for limiting the impact of the pandemic, the continual emergence of new variants accentuates the need for additional COVID-19 treatments.
Development of new therapeutics, such as antiviral drugs, complements preventative measures to protect the widest population. It is anticipated that anti-viral resistance resulting from accumulated mutations will threaten the long-term efficacy of the first generation of protease inhibitors. To avoid this and retain efficacy, the Infectious Diseases Theme are utilising our researchers with strong expertise in structural biology and medicinal chemistry to develop novel protease inhibitors for SARS-CoV-2 and circumvent antiviral resistance.
 WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard, World Health Organization, https://covid19.who.int/ [accessed 23 June 2022]
Antimicrobial peptides to treat multi-drug resistant Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens
Antimicrobial peptides originate in nature. Many that come from microbes contain unusual amino acids and modifications that are difficult to synthesise in a laboratory setting. MWC investigators are overcoming this challenge using patented peptide lipidation technology (CLiPA). CLiPA allows for the preparation of a wide library of peptide compounds for testing against a range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive human pathogens, as well as toxicity testing against human cells.
At the same time, MWC researchers are working to identify new and novel antimicrobial natural products by mining genomes. Collectively, this will produce new antimicrobial peptides with less toxic properties compared to existing antibiotics.
Targeting essential bacterial pathways and processes as targets for new antibiotics with novel modes of action
MWC researchers are identifying new antibiotics with novel modes of action to overcome antimicrobial resistance. Examples include antibiotics that target metabolic pathways and processes essential for bacterial survival during host infection: for example, RNase HI, methionine biosynthesis, cysteine biosynthesis, and tryptophan biosynthesis. These pathways are targeted in the notoriously drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae and can be expanded to other priority pathogens.