20 December 2016 - PRESS RELEASE

Using natural substances to treat poverty-related diseases

The DZIF is funding the most modern microbial agent candidate production processes at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.


Modern production platforms for microbial agent candidates against malaria and other poverty-related infectious diseases.© HZI/János Krüger

Drugs against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and other infectious diseases are still urgently needed in poorer countries. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, almost 430,000 people died of malaria alone last year. In the new research project “AntiMalariaDrug”, DZIF scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) are developing the biotechnological production of new natural agents against malaria and other poverty-related diseases. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the project with 780,000 euro through the funding measure “Neglected and Poverty-Related Diseases”. Additionally, the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is financing several bioreactors for the project with 325,000 euros.

Poverty promotes the occurrence of diseases, particularly infectious diseases. The WHO estimates that about 1.5 million people are suffering from poverty-related diseases worldwide. These include diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, which are usually curable or at least treatable with modern drugs in our part of the world.

“However, the industry is not giving the quest for new antibiotic drugs the high priority it used to 20 years ago,” says Prof Marc Stadler, Head of “Microbial Drugs” Department at the HZI. “The development of drugs against tuberculosis and other bacterial diseases that especially play a role in the tropics has been expedited even less than the development of broad spectrum antibiotics and agents against multidrug-resistant hospital pathogens. Therefore, very many Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains have become resistant to the standard agent rifampicin and even carry multiple resistance genes.”

With the BMBF and DZIF funding, Stadler and his team at the HZI are developing a highly modern microbial agent candidate production platform. “Through international collaboration projects, we have access to many microbial and fungal natural substances. However, identifying potential active agent candidates is not enough,” explains Stadler. “We need sufficient amounts of the agents and of adequate quality. To achieve this, they need to be prepared both biotechnologically and chemically, and also be produced in multi-gram ranges—almost a pound is required for preclinical development.” Only then can subsequent steps on the path to drug development be taken. For this to succeed in future, the funding will be invested in new bioreactors—devices which can be used to develop potential agents.

The scientists can use the new bioreactors to isolate and advance larger amounts of agents that are already known, in addition to new agent candidates. For example, in a previous project, the oral administration of the agent chlorotonil was effective against malaria in animal testing. “Thanks to the new fermenter we can now directly build on these findings and increase the amount of agent,” says Stadler. “We have already developed a process that produces the substances in the multi-gram range, and this now needs to be transferred to a larger production process. The project has been ongoing since January 2016, in a very successful German Center for Infection Research collaboration with the University of Tübingen.”

to the HZI press release (German)

At the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) around 500 scientists and doctors across 35 research establishments unite to work against the global threat of infectious diseases. www.dzif.de

At the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI) scientists investigate mechanisms of infection and defence against them. What makes bacteria and viruses pathogenic: understanding this will provide the key to developing new drugs and vaccines. The HZI is a member of the DZIF. www.helmholtz-hzi.de


DZIF Press Office
Karola Neubert and Janna Schmidt

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