Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health. A new ambitious research project led by experienced researcher Frank Møller Aarestrup will therefore collect and analyse untreated wastewater from more than 100 cities throughout the world with the aim of increasing knowledge on the global prevalence and acquisition of antibiotic resistance. The researchers thus hope to be able to create the basis for new procedures and methods for reducing antibiotic resistance globally and optimizing the use of the most effective antibiotics.
“We hope to show that the prevalence of antibiotic resistance can be monitored in up to half the world’s population. This type of monitoring programme will vastly improve understanding of the prevalence and spread of antibiotic resistance and the measures each country should take,” says Frank Møller Aarestrup, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.
The project is one of five for which the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded DKK 60 million each under its Challenge Programme, which aims to promote world-class research.
Two of the other projects also focus on antibiotic resistance, and the remaining two aim to develop better drugs.
The Foundation has awarded a grant to Peter Eigil Nielsen, Professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine of the University of Copenhagen, for a project that will establish a knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics that hopefully will be able to keep pace with the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby complementing and reinforcing the use of existing antibiotics. Tilmann Weber, Senior Researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability of the Technical University of Denmark, has been awarded a grant for a project that will use innovative screening technologies to identify new potential antibiotics and the genes that code for their biosynthesis.
For research that can support the development of better drugs, the Foundation has awarded grants to Hanne Mørck Nielsen, Professor at the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Copenhagen and to Thomas Lars Andresen, Professor at the Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology of the Technical University of Denmark. Both projects focus on developing new knowledge on and methods for absorbing drugs through the intestines. This will enable drugs currently administered by injection to be orally administered by tablets or capsules, thereby minimizing discomfort, the risk of infection and other side-effects of injection.
Each project will be carried out jointly with several Danish and international collaborators.
The Challenge Programme is the Foundation’s largest regular grant programme. The Foundation awards up to DKK 360 million each year for up to six grants of DKK 60 million each over 6 years. The Challenge Programme’s themes vary each year.
“The Foundation aims to use the Challenge Programme to contribute to supporting and promoting world-class research that focuses on contributing to finding answers to today’s challenges in global technology or health,” says Niels-Henrik von Holstein-Rathlou, Head of Research and Innovation Grants, Novo Nordisk Foundation.
Information on the research projects
Global monitoring of antibiotic resistance
Effectively reducing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance and using the best antibiotics requires knowledge based on continually monitoring the prevalence and spread of different types of antibiotic resistance globally. To increase this knowledge, the project will collect and analyse wastewater from cities throughout the world and make the results universally available, including for the public authorities, researchers and citizens. The project will use whole-genome sequencing, a technique that reveals the full DNA profile of bacteria. This will enable the prevalence of all known genes that produce antibiotic resistance to be determined in one operation.
Frank Møller Aarestrup, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark
Thomas Sicheritz-Ponten, Professor, Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Department of Bio and Health Informatics, Technical University of Denmark
Ole Lund, Professor, Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Department of Bio and Health Informatics, Technical University of Denmark
Mark E.J. Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
A knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics
This project will use new strategies to develop specific antibiotics to combat the serious and growing threat to health arising from infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. Specifically, the project will exploit and explore the ability of peptides to permeate the cell walls and cell membranes of bacteria, because these peptides may facilitate the development of genetically targeted antibiotics.
“Our vision is to establish a knowledge and technology platform for developing new antibiotics that will keep pace with the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby complementing and reinforcing the use of existing antibiotics,” says Peter Eigil Nielsen.
Peter Eigil Nielsen, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen
Anders Løbner-Olesen, Professor, Section for Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen
Anette Hammerum, Senior Researcher, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen
Henrik Franzyk, Associate Professor, Section for Natural Products and Peptides, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen
Producing antibiotics using cell factories
Antibiotic resistance is increasing, and new antibiotics are desperately needed to combat infections. The project group will use innovative screening technologies to identify new potential antibiotics and the genes that code for their biosynthesis. These data will enable the bacteria to be used as cell factories to produce large quantities of antibiotics. The project will identify thousands of unknown genes that are involved in synthesizing antibiotics and will develop new biosynthetic production processes. Most important of all, the project will discover molecules that can potentially be developed into antibiotics.
“Our current antibiotics rapidly become ineffective, subjecting people to the risk of dying from even simple infections. We need to find new antibiotics now – and we need to optimize how we discover them,” says Tilmann Weber.
Tilmann Weber, Senior Researcher, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark
Sang Yup Lee, Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon, South Korea; and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark
Bernhard O. Palsson, Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of California, San Diego, United States; and CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark
Olga Genilloud, Scientific Director, Fundación MEDINA, Granada, Spain
New knowledge on transporting drugs in the body
Many life-threatening diseases are controlled effectively by injecting peptide- and protein-based drugs known as biopharmaceuticals. Administering these drugs as tablets would be very advantageous, especially for people with chronic diseases and those who need to take the medicine frequently. However, the challenge is that these drugs are broken down in the intestines, and the amount absorbed by the intestines varies tremendously. Delivering the drugs throughout the body following oral administration is therefore enormously challenging, and there are still no general methods for solving this problem.
“The project focuses on solving the challenges of drug delivery by developing a better and more detailed understanding of how peptide- and protein-based drugs integrate with and are transported across the intestinal membrane and arrive at their target areas. To move towards achieving this ambitious target, the project will develop new unique drug-delivery concepts, technologies and methods. This major project involves advanced chemistry, nanorobots and visualizing the transport of drugs in the body. This will enable us to design and study systems for oral drug delivery of biopharmaceuticals,” says Hanne Mørck Nielsen.
Hanne Mørck Nielsen, Professor, Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Knud J. Jensen, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Jesper Glückstad, Professor, Department of Photonics Engineering, Technical University of Denmark
Urs O. Häfeli, Professor, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Canada; and Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
From needles to capsules
Insulin is a medicine that can only currently be administered by using syringes and needles. Injecting insulin causes great discomfort for many people, creates a risk of infection and often requires trained health personnel, which is expensive for society. Developing new methods that enable people to take drugs as capsules instead would be significant the people using the medicine and for society. The greatest impediment to success is that many of the important drugs, especially proteins, are not absorbed by the intestines.
“We want to develop new methods in our new centre that can significantly increase the absorption of pharmaceutical proteins in the intestines so that these drugs can be administered to people as tablets or capsules,” says Thomas Lars Andresen.
Thomas Lars Andresen, Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark
Tomas Kirchhausen, Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States
Chris Porter, Professor, Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash University, Australia
Nazila Kamaly, Associate Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark
Henrik Flyvbjerg, Associate Professor, Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark
Wayne Lencer, Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States
About the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme
The Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme aims to support and promote world-class research that focuses on finding answers to challenges in global technology or health.
Aimed at leading researchers, the Foundation Programme awards grants of DKK 60 million over 6 years to research groups, thereby enabling them to have the funds to carry out in-depth research on a specific theme over a long time frame.
To ensure that the best project proposals and research teams are considered, the Foundation wards the grants through calls for applications in open competition. A specially created expert committee assesses the applicants. The research groups may be located anywhere in the world as long as the main applicant and host institution are based in Denmark.
The Foundation’s Challenge Programme awards up to DKK 360 million annually for up to six grants.
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