Dr Michael McArthur,

£1m funding allows Procarta to advance antibiotic development

By Rachel Holdsworth - 16 January 2014

A unique approach that will shorten the time taken to develop new antibiotics has received more than £1m of funding to scale up production and enter clinical trials. 

Procarta Biosystems has received two substantial EU grants to focus on combating the “superbugs” MRSA and Clostridium difficile and the causative agent of tuberculosis.

Procarta’s novel patented approach takes away the ability of the bacteria to control their own genes which is a unique new way of attacking bacteria. As gene expression is an essential process, it is difficult to see how bacteria could develop resistance to new drugs developed with this technology.

Dr Michael McArthur, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Procarta, says the funding will help fast track the technology from lab to clinic.

He adds: “What is new to bacteria is also new to the pharmaceutical industry so in order to get serious backing the technology needs to prove itself.

“The science has been validated in the laboratory and we have previously secured public and private investment. These EU grants will allow us to accelerate development of a portfolio of products, scale-up production and enter clinical trials.”

The Procarta approach “hacks” the genetic code of the bacteria.  First, the DNA of the bacterium is sequenced and this is then used as a template to synthesise a new stretch of DNA code that can select which genes in the bacteria to turn off. This code forms the basis of a new antibiotic and Procarta has demonstrated that its technology is applicable to a range of bacteria.

Dr McArthur continues: “Using our platform technology new antibiotics can be designed rapidly by simple examination of the genome sequence. This would allow us to respond in a matter of weeks to outbreaks of dangerous and difficult to treat infections.”

Dr. Kostas Hatzixanthis, director of research at Procarta, says their platform technology could transform the market.

“These are very exciting times for Procarta and I am delighted the EU has recognised the potential of our technology. We look forward to the challenge of scaling up production and preparing for clinical trials.”

Dr. McArthur adds: “This is a double pleasure - as the science grows so does the company and we will be recruiting.  We want to play a key part of the scientific revolution that is going on at the NorwichResearchPark. 

“The UK government has backed us through its scientific funding body, the BBSRC, and there has always been an expectation that we will generate value and jobs.  I am glad to reciprocate.”

The NorwichResearchPark has one of the largest concentrations of microbiologists in Europe and this has created an exciting hub for drug discovery and research.  It has particular strengths in the field of antimicrobials.

Collaboration across the Park – between the University of East Anglia (UEA), UEA’s NorwichMedicalSchool, the Norfolk and NorwichUniversityHospital and research institutes The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Institute of Food Research (IFR), plus a Clinical Trials Research Unit – has started to fast-track a range of new developments.

Some of these are aimed at the development of highly specific, narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which will benefit both patients and the societal management of infections.

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