Today researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and Imperial College in London shared their results from investigating the antibacterial properties of glatiramer acetate (GA), a drug that is already being used to treat MS. This is the first detailed study of the antibacterial properties of the drug, and has shown that it could work against the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which infects almost two in three people with CF by young adulthood. So far, the tests have been conducted in the lab and not in people with CF, and there is still some way to go until the drug becomes a viable treatment for cystic fibrosis.
This work, published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports,’ has been co-funded by a Cystic Fibrosis Trust Venture and Innovation Award (VIA), and also uses resources from the Trust’s Strategic Research Centre investigating Pseudomonal infection in cystic fibrosis (CF), led by Professor Jane Davies. Together the SRC and VIA have a total investment from the Trust of over £770,000.
Strangely, GA was originally discovered as a way to get around antibiotic resistance because the drug has similar properties to frog skin.
A big problem with treating Pseudomonas is that the bug has become resistant to conventional antibiotics. When this happens, antibiotics can’t get into the Pseudomonas to kill them – they literally bounce off the surface. The skin of garden frogs has antibiotic properties, which get round antibiotic resistance by having a mixture of chemicals that work together to break into the bacteria. GA contains a mix of chemicals that look very similar to those found in the frog.
After conducting studies in lab-grown strains of Pseudomonas, the researchers then progressed to testing GA in Pseudomonas cultures from people with CF, as these strains will have slightly different properties from the ‘standard’ strains available in the lab. This research showed that GA can kill approximately 50% of the Pseudomonas found in samples from people with cystic fibrosis.
As part of Professor Davies’ SRC grant she has developed a large collection of these cultures from people with CF – sometimes from the same person at different times. This collection has been a vitally important resource in this research study, and will continue to benefit research in the future.
In a second VIA currently underway, Professor Davies and her collaborators are conducting some follow up studies. For example, she will be asking why is it that GA only affects 50% of Pseudomonas, and whether the drug could be effective if used in combination with existing antibiotics.
Professor Davies is collaborating with researchers based in Aarhus in Denmark and with Cycle Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge in the UK. Researchers in Aarhus first discovered the antibacterial properties of GA and own the drug’s patent. The expertise of Cycle Pharmaceuticals is in taking drugs used for one disease or condition, and fine tuning them or ‘repurposing’ them so that they can work for another. Working with Professor Davies, Cycle Pharmaceuticals are keen to develop a formulation of GA that can be administered to the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis.
James Harrison, Executive Chairman of Cycle Pharmaceuticals, said: “Cycle’s mission is to improve existing drugs for the benefit of patients. This particularly matters in CF given the lifelong burden of the condition – any improvement can therefore impact the quality of life of patients every single day. We are thrilled to be working with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Aarhus University and Imperial College on this important project.
“So much public and private research funding is, quite rightly, directed at diseases of the elderly. It is a pleasure, in the case of CF, to seek to help with a disease of the young.”
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