Health Team

RTP company develops 'molecular scalpel' to combat superbugs

Posted March 1
Updated March 2

— Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, C-Diff and E-Coli, have led to a global epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 2 million people are infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. About 23,000 of those people die.

A local biotech company believes it doesn't have to be that way, though, as they are on the leading edge of finding a cure.

In the Research Triangle Park, inside the Locus Bioscience lab, drug-resistant bacteria might soon meet its match: a new drug called Cas3.

"It affords us the opportunity to actually selectively target a particular geno-type of bacteria," said Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, chief science officer at Locus Bioscience.

Barrangou helped develop the application at North Carolina State University. The company then obtained the licensing from N.C. State and Duke University, convinced that it could transform the field of medicine.

"(It is) essentially antibiotic replacement," Locus CEO Paul Garofolo said.

Broad spectrum antibiotics are designed to attack infectious bacteria, but they can also kill beneficial bacteria, such as those that line the digestive tract. When that happens, the resistant bacteria may still survive and take over an open niche where the other bacteria is eliminated, Barrangou said.

To get around the problem, Cas3 can be tailored to recognize the DNA of only the infectious bacteria, sparing the beneficial crop.

"(Cas3) are very powerful, very potent molecular machines that act like a molecular scalpel," Barrangou said.

The "scalpel" kills the pathogen but leaves good bacteria alone.

Garofolo says work is now focused on preparing for trials.

"We grow up enough of that drug product in this lab to be able to move that into small animal studies," Garofolo said.

Garofolo said the goal is to earn U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in order to begin human trials by the winter of 2018 or in early 2019.

The new type of anti-bacterial drug could be delivered to patients as either a topical skin application, an oral drug or in an intravenous form, depending on the type of infection.


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