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Characterization and analysis of amphibian host defence peptides as potential antibiotics

  • Project Leaders: Inanc Birol, Caren Helbing
  • Institutions: BC Cancer (Previously BC Cancer Agency (BCCA))
  • Budget: $250000
  • Program/Competition: Sector Innovation Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2017
  • Status: Closed

Antibiotic resistance is a serious global problem. The World Health Organization has called the spread of resistant strains “the greatest and most urgent global risk, requiring increased attention”. Alongside efforts to eliminate the unnecessary use of antibiotics, new drugs are urgently needed to augment our existing arsenal. Short protein fragments called antimicrobial peptides, or AMPs, are a potential alternative to conventional antibiotic pharmaceuticals, and can directly inhibit the functions of bacteria and/or activate the host’s immune system. Furthermore, compared to conventional antibiotic drugs, it is more difficult for bacteria to evolve resistance to AMPs.  

Researchers from BC Cancer’s Genome Sciences Centre and the University of Victoria, armed with the bullfrog genome and cutting-edge computational tools, have developed a faster and more effective method to identify and isolate new AMPs. They tested a list of 31 candidates and found at least one active AMP against each target, including multidrug resistant microbes, or superbugs, which are of particular concern for immuno-comprised patients such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.  

This study represented the first step of optimized AMP design with improved consistency, reproducibility, stability and activity, and demonstrated mining genomic resources as an enabling approach. This project has led to a successful Genome Canada LSARP application in 2018 and a spin-off biotech company that will help with the commercialization of the results.