SDRI conference blog – day one

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After 18 months in the making, I am delighted the Solutions for Drug-Resistant Infections (SDRI 2017) conference kicked off today in Brisbane, Australia.

The idea of ‘SDRI 2017’ was conceived in Brisbane by Matthew Cooper’s antibiotic research group and organized by the Community for Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD) (both University of Queensland (UQ), Australia). The theme of this inaugural conference is New Drugs for Drug-Resistant Infections. Over the next 3 days we welcome a range of distinguished invited speakers who are world leading experts in research, industry, funding and policy in the field of drug-resistant infections.

Cooper was delighted to introduce England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies to give the opening plenary talk. Davies has long been an advocate for action on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), having led the international campaign over the last 6 years that culminated in a United Nations (UN) General Assembly declaration last year. The UN, on March 17th 2017, announced the establishment of the Interagency Coordination Group on AMR employing expert members from across the globe. Davies is key to this expert group, and this was her first appearance since the announcement.

Dame Sally Davies (Public Health England, UK) delivering her talk, ‘AMR – The global problem requiring global coordination and response’

“As part of my new role on the UN interagency coordination group on AMR, I will be working with governments and experts across the world, including here in Australia, to make sure we work together to avert a global catastrophe,” Davies commented.

Davies’ talk titled ‘AMR – The global problem requiring global coordination and response’, described the complex AMR problem requiring diverse and dynamic solutions.

“It is not a problem that any one country can tackle in silo,” she explained.

Davies explored the factors that contribute to the development of drug-resistant infections and discussed the many different approaches that need to be considered and implemented to tackle this problem. She highlighted why a coordinated response – globally, across a number of different sectors – is the only method to tackle drug-resistant infections and reported the steps they are taking to move this forward across the globe.

After working with Sally Davies on AMR in my role at the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2013 in the UK, and since 2015 in my role at CO-ADD in Australia, to host and hear from Dame Davies in Brisbane was an SDRI 2017 conference highlight for me (and it was only the first talk of day 1!).

For the SDRI delegates, morning tea followed, and there was an exciting buzz in the foyer as researchers from across the world found their colleagues and collaborators to catch up.

Up next was Bloomberg News Senior Editor, based in Sydney, Jason Gale. Gale has worked on reporting global health over the last decade and has received a number of awards. Perhaps one of the most unique talks of the day, Gale described his AMR journey as a journalist – ‘From the prostate biopsy sepsis nexus to shrimp gate’.

Jason discussed his reporting on prostate biopsies, New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) and commercial poultry production in India, and the murky word of aquaculture – explaining why we all might want to pass on the shrimp cocktail.

Gale stated: “The media can be a powerful ally in creating awareness and effecting chance in response to AMR.”

Sydney-based Bloomberg News Senior Editor Jason Gale describing his AMR journey as a journalist

The first session for day 1 was Antimicrobial Resistance. This important session set the scene for the remainder of the conference to address the questions ‘why have we reached the precipice of a post-antibiotic world?’ and ‘AMR is an issue with any drug therapy, but what has led to our current predicament?’.

The session commenced with Jean-Pierre Paccaud from Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi, Geneva, Switzerland). Paccaud directs the corporate strategy and business development for the Global Antimicrobial Research and Development (R&D) Partnership (GARDP), a joint DNDi-WHO initiative. GARDP’s mission is to develop new antibiotic treatments addressing AMR and to promote their responsible use for optimal conservation, while ensuring equitable access for all in need. The initiative calls for new public-private partnerships for encouraging R&D of new antimicrobial agents and diagnostics. His talk covered GARDP’s priority setting methodology and R&D interventions to date.

The session was concluded by two short talks, the first of these by Scott Beatson, Microbial Genomics Group Leader at UQ who specializes in bacterial pathogenomics. His talk focused on using genomics to reveal secrets of multi-drug resistant bacteria. Next, Steven Djordjevic from The ithree Institute, University of Technology Sydney (Australia), spoke about his research examining the collection of mobile genetic elements in Escherichia coli that play an important role in mobilizing AMR genes.

After some lunch, networking and poster viewing the afternoon kicked off with the first antimicrobial drug discovery session chaired by UQ’s Mark Blaskovich.

“New antibiotics are desperately needed to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections – with novel chemotypes acting on novel targets a rare commodity. This session will examine early discovery research that could lead to the first next new class of antibiotics in decades,” Blaskovich explained.

Delegates networking during the morning tea break

We started the session with Gerry Wright, Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada), who has been working on antibiotic resistance and discovery for over 25 years. His recent work on identifying agents that block resistance was presented along with efforts to reverse resistance to a variety of antibiotic classes.

“Discovering new antibiotics with novel chemical scaffolds is proving to be difficult to achieve,” he explains.

He believes a complimentary strategy can be achieved through the co-administration of antibiotic adjuvants that block resistance mechanisms directly or indirectly thereby recovering the activity of existing drugs.

Elizabeth Winzeler from University of California (CA, USA) was up next and described new leads for drug discovery to treat malaria and overcome parasite drug resistance using two approaches. The Winzeler lab is developing and implementing phenotypic screens that can identify compounds likely to provide symptomatic relief, protect against malaria and prevent malaria transmission. They are also working to identify the targets of these identified compounds by black box screening with the goal of developing biochemical assays.

Next in the session was Didier Leroy, who leads biology at Medicines Malaria Venture (MMV) (Meyrin, Switzerland). He tells us that resistance of some degree has emerged to almost all antimalarials. Leroy discussed how to evaluate and make decisions on compounds, regarding resistance, in the discovery phase given uncertainty in how such findings will translate to the clinic.

He explained that MMV – a not-for-profit product development partnership – prioritizes the testing of portfolio compounds against panels of sensitive and multidrug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum strains.

Welcome to Country, Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dancers

Jennifer Leeds, our first industry speaker at SDRI 2017, was up next. Leeds heads up Antibacterial Discovery at Novartis (Basel, Switzerland) and is responsible for the strategy and execution of the new antibacterial portfolio from target discovery through to clinical validation. Leeds covered Novartis’ discovery of an investigational agent for Clostridium difficile including lessons learned in the opportunities and challenges of developing the antimicrobial. Leeds – a fantastic female leader and role model in the AMR space.

The main session concluded with a talk by Marvin Miller, from the University of Notre Dame (IN, USA), focusing on a daptomycin (a Gram-positive active antibiotic) derivative capable of killing Gram-negative Acinetobacter baumannii.

This was followed by the first SDRI 2017 rapid fire session – where three poster abstract submitters were selected by the scientific committee to join the main conference to present a 5 minute talk.

Griffith University’s Kathy Andrews (Brisbane, Australia) kicked off the first rapid fire talk presenting data on lead-like chemoprotection compounds in the context of changing malaria drug discovery dynamics under a global agenda focused on eradication. Liping Li from Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) then described her research into looking for a potential mode-of-action and resistance determinants in Acinetobacter baumannii. And finally, Kyle Defrees from the University of California finished the session talking about his research into reversible carbapenemase inhibitors to save the future of carbapenem antibiotic to treat multi-drug resistant pathogens.

To conclude was the final session of the day titled Improvements to existing anti-infective agents and repurposing drugs and chaired by SDRI 2017 co-chair Jian Li from Monash University (Melbourne, Australia).

“The arms race between the development of new anti-infective agents and rise of resistance has been a stalemate for the past 60 years largely due to the development of new generations of existing antibiotics”, Li explained.

The session examined what further improvements are in the pipeline, and the complementary approach of repurposing medications approved for one indication to target a different pathogen.

Invited speaker Helen Zgurskaya, University of Oklahoma (OK, USA) described her research into the mechanisms of bacterial multidrug efflux pumps and permeability of Gram-negative outer membranes. Zgurskaya discussed ongoing efforts to understand the molecular bases of this barrier and specific strategies to break it in order to achieve potent activities against difficult Gram-negative bacteria.

This was followed by two talks from Monash University on development of new polymxyins with improved safety and efficacy by Kade Roberts and Tony Velkov. Dr Angie Jarrad was up next to describe her research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience into compounds with antiparasitic and antitubercular activity in in vivo efficacy models.

The final talk of the day was by Michael Kelso from the University of Wollongong (Australia), who discussed how low concentrations of nitric oxide have been shown to act as a signal that induces some biofilm bacteria to disperse and revert to the free-swimming (planktonic) form. This finding has unveiled an exciting new anti-biofilm paradigm; i.e. use of nitric oxide-donor compounds in combination with antibiotics to clear chronic biofilm infections, as it is known that planktonic bacteria are up to 1000 times more susceptible to antibiotics and host immune defences than their better-protected biofilm counterparts.

ABC Brisbane Radio interview with Sally Davies, followed by panel discussion with John Rex, Ramanan Laxminarayan and Matt Cooper.

The first SDRI 2017 conference day concluded with a well-deserved glass of champagne at the Welcome Reception and the first poster session. Delegates were able to mingle, make new friends, and explore the posters before getting some well-deserved rest ahead of day two of SDRI 2017.

Day one in numbers: 230 delegates gather for SDRI 2017, 20 talks, three sessions, two ABC Brisbane Radio interviews including 80 minutes of radio airtime on solutions for drug-resistant infections! It’s been a good day.

Join me again tomorrow for a review on our exciting plenary talk from Ramanan Laxminarayan, AMR health economist expert, and an important session on international models and funding for AMR.

About the author

I am the Outreach Program Coordinator for a global open-access antibiotic drug discovery initiative called the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD). We launched in February 2015 to uncover significant and rich chemical diversity held outside of corporate compound collections. CO-ADD has developed a collaborative pipeline of new antibiotic candidates through the provision of free and timely antimicrobial screening to academic researchers around the world. CO-ADD tests compounds against five of the top pathogens listed on the WHO priority list for Research and Development of new antibiotics, as well as two fungi. CO-ADD is based at The University of Queensland (UQ) Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

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