UNIZULU Involved in Antimicrobial Resistance Solution

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UNIZULU Involved in Antimicrobial Resistance Solution

UNIZULU Involved in Antimicrobial Resistance Solution

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) is at the forefront of a drug discovery for antimicrobial resistance. Professor Thavendran Govender, representing UNIZULU in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) InQubate, is among sixteen scholars leading this research project. 

The study has culminated in an article that was recently published in a prestigious international journal. The journal article is titled “In Vitro and In Vivo Development of a β-Lactam-Metallo-β-Lactamase Inhibitor: Targeting Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacterales”.

Delighted, Prof Govender said this venture flies the UNIZULU flag high, not only in the African continent but also globally. He explained that β-lactams are  regarded as the most prescribed class of antibiotics due to their potent, broad-spectrum antimicrobial activities. However, alarming rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) now threaten the clinical relevance of these drugs, especially for the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales expressing metallo-β-lactamases (MBLs). AMR is a process whereby infected microorganisms (in humans, plants or animals) evolve to such an extent that the drug which was originally effective for its treatment becomes ineffective, making it difficult to treat infections and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and mortality. 

“Resistant microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that can survive and grow even when antimicrobial, antibacterial drugs (such as antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials are administered; therefore, more standard treatments become vain, and the infection persists, evitable increasing the risk of it spreading,” Prof Govender said. Thus, the World Health Organisation has declared AMR as one of the top 10 threats to global health and food security.

Antimicrobial agents that specifically target these enzymes to restore the efficacy of last resort β-lactam drugs, that is, carbapenems, are therefore desperately needed, Prof Govender stressed. The findings of the “In Vitro and In Vivo Development of a β-Lactam-Metallo-β-Lactamase Inhibitor: Targeting Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacterales” propose a favourable therapeutic combination strategy that restores the activity of the carbapenem antibiotic class and complements the few MBL inhibitors under development, with the ultimate goal of curbing antimicrobial resistance.

Prof Govender further mentioned that there is a rising number of illnesses including pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea, and salmonellosis which are becoming difficult to treat as the antibiotics used to treat become less and less effective. Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, leading to higher medical costs and increased mortality. 

“The estimated number of people killed by antibiotic resistance each year worldwide is around 700 000. The United Nation’s Interagency Coordinating Group on AMR stated in 2019 that drug-resistant diseases could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 and cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050. Its financial impact would be on a scale like the 2008 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Without urgent intervention, humans are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries would become deadly. In the 100-year history of antibiotic discovery and development, chemical synthesis has played a key and essential role in providing new antibiotics,” Prof Govender alluded.

He believes that being part of this global project will allow UNIZULU to now apply for grants to undertake further research and development, including clinical trials.  The next phase of project development is to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration for an investigational new drug. 

Prof Govender also mentioned that existing antibiotics have fast depleted due to bacterial resistance, and the world is in dire need of new medication. Serendipitously, scientists are in a golden era of understanding resistance and how antibiotics operate in the human body thereby, increased interest and innovation into antibiotic replenishment is poised to inform drug discovery and to address this critical epidemic. There are currently only a handful of compounds that have passed the preclinical drug discovery stage with their design having the best pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profile to date.

The Director of the Research and Innovation Office, Professor Byron Brown, congratulated Prof Govender and expressed his delight for the new publication and its circulation on the global stage. He highlighted that UNIZULU and UKZN-InQubate have filed for international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) to secure pending protection in PCT Contracting States.

-Precious Shamase and Mbuyiselo Mlaba

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