New weapons to battle bacterium behind ulcers

Victoria University of Wellington researchers have developed what could possibly be an effective treatment against a common bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.

Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that lives in the gut of more than 50 per cent of the world’s population, and is the most common bacterial infection worldwide. It is responsible for most peptic ulcers and is a significant risk factor for stomach cancer.

Professors Peter Tyler and Gary Evans, and Dr Keith Clinch from Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute, have worked with Professor Vern Schramm from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York to develop 10 antibiotic candidates for treating the bacteria.

“Developing a new antibiotic treatment for this bacteria has become important because of the development of resistance to drugs, the use of which tends to wipe out much of the gut’s healthy bacteria as well,” says Professor Tyler.

“Our compounds target a pathway specific to this bacterium, by blocking the enzyme methylthioadenosine nucleosidase and interfering with production of an essential bacterial membrane component. This means we can selectively halt the growth of this bacterium, while not affecting other beneficial gut microbes.”

All ten of the antibiotic candidates identified by the research team have been proven to prevent the bacteria’s growth at concentrations 16 to 2,000-fold lower than antibiotics commonly used to treat Helicobacter pylori infections.

The research team has spent the past three years in the lab synthesising and testing the drug candidates, with their findings recently published by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“This is a great achievement for Ferrier scientists, who have been heavily involved in the development of the compounds”, says Director of the Ferrier Research Institute Professor Richard Furneaux.

Victoria University’s Ferrier Research Institute comprises chemistry experts and analysts carrying out applied research and offering commercial services in chemical immunology, enzyme inhibitors, pharmaceutical manufacture, heparan sulphate, industrial formulations and carbohydrates for health.