News - January 11, 2018

Research funds for new antibiotics

Albert Sikkema

Dutch research funding organization NWO is making seven million euros available for the development of new affordable antibiotics and alternatives to antibiotics. Eight research projects have received funding, including Marnix Medema’s project. He will look for new antibiotics in soil.


A total of almost 50 scientists and 20 companies will be working on the development of new antibiotics. There is a big demand for new drugs because resistance to antibiotics is increasing around the world. That is why NWO is starting a collaborative programme to make better use of research on antibiotics in the Dutch healthcare system.

Soil bacteria
Marnix Medema, a Bioinformatics researcher at Wageningen, will be looking for lipopeptides that are produced by soil bacteria as these molecules have a strong antibacterial effect. Two examples are the drugs daptomycin and polymyxin. Medema will be using metabolic analysis, genome analysis and bioinformatics to look for related molecules that could serve as antibiotics.

Medema is collaborating with the Leiden microbiologist Gilles van Wezel and the Utrecht chemist Nathaniel Martin. NWO has given them 750,000 euros and the participating companies are contributing a further quarter of a million. ‘We will screen thousands of bacterial strains to get as full a picture as possible of the natural diversity in lipopeptides,’ says Medema. ‘We will then expand on that diversity using synthetic biology and chemical synthesis.’

Immune cells
In another project, researchers will investigate how you can ‘reset’ human immune cells that have been affected by resistant bacteria. Another group of scientists want to find proteins that can make resistant bacteria susceptible to antibiotics that have so far only worked on different bacterial groups. In other approved projects, researchers and companies will develop promising substances further that seem to be effective in tackling resistant microorganisms.

NWO is investing two million euros in the programme and the ministry of Health almost five million. Industrial partners are contributing over one million euros to the projects, either in funding or in the form of knowledge or equipment.