Averting the post-antibiotic era

Top scientists meet to find solutions to antibiotic resistance

Monday 05 Nov 18
by Anne Lykke, Anders Mønsted


Søren Molin
DTU Biosustain
+45 20 31 82 10

160 top scientists from 21 nations were joined to discuss and present their work in the field of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance at a big Novo Nordisk Foundation conference. Amongst the proposed solutions were bacteria-killing viruses and beneficial gut bacteria.

Many scientists working in the field of antibiotics try to disclose how disease-causing bacteria manage to become resistant to treatment and how they evolve during an infection. This knowledge is important in order to understand how to avoid resistance. Therefore, avoiding – or reducing the risk of bacteria becoming resistant – was a highly-debated subject at the “Averting the post-antibiotic era” conference.

The conference, held from 31 October to 3 November 2018, was the 15th Copenhagen Bioscience Conference. It was organised by The Novo Nordisk Foundation in collaboration with The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability.

Bacteria-killing viruses as antibiotics?

Some scientists are working on using bacteria-killing viruses (bacteriophages or just phages) to fight multi-resistant disease-causing bacteria such as MRSA. Even though phages seem like a controversial way to go, the FDA has already approved at least two phage-products, which can be used to spray food to kill Salmonella and Listeria.

"The mixture of biologists and clinical microbiologists at the conference underlined how important it is to transform cutting-edge biological science into clinical solutions"
Professor Søren Molin, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability

Also, some scientists argue that phages can be engineered, so only the viral tails change depending on the bacterial target. This ensures phage homogeneity, which makes it much safer as a therapeutic.

Feces transplants may be part of the solution

Another topic was the gut microflora and how this interplays with antibiotics. Today, most antibiotics are broad spectrum, meaning that the treatment kills a lot of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Evidence shows that antibiotic treatments can cause severe damage to the natural gut microflora, which takes years to restore. This can leave patients more susceptible to infections originating from the intestinal system.

Hence, scientists look at how they can “rescue” the normal microflora after antibiotic treatment using for instance feces transplants. Some argue that this holds great promise, because a healthy gut microflora supports the immune system and, hence, protects the patient from new or recurrent infections. One goal is to identify the beneficial bacteria of the gut and make a ‘bacterial cocktail’ that can fight disease-causing bacteria.

“Among the many interesting viewpoints presented at this conference, the clinical investigations of the importance of the human microbiota on bacterial infections were truly thought-provoking”, says Professor Søren Molin, chair of the conference and lead coordinator from The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at Technical University of Denmark.

Tough to get sufficient quantities of new antibiotics

Others presented promising new candidates that could become the world’s next antibiotic. But one of the problems is often that it is very hard to produce large amounts of the promising candidates, because the active compound is very complex, which makes it impossible to produce by chemical synthesis.

Another problem is that the compound is only produced in very small quantities by for instance soil bacteria. Moreover, these bacteria only produce the potential antibiotic when they are attacked by enemies and need to fight for their lives. So, finding new ways to produce large quantities of these interesting compounds were also on the agenda.

Important to transform science into clinical solutions

The conference covered four important topics in connection with infectious diseases: Infection mechanisms, antibiotic resistance and tolerance, the importance of the human microbiome, and development of novel antibiotics. To cover these topics, leading scientists from all over the world came to Favrholm in Hillerød, Denmark, to exchange ideas and results, and to communicate the seriousness of the threat concerning antibiotic resistance.

”The mixture of biologists and clinical microbiologists at the conference underlined how important it is to transform cutting-edge biological science into clinical solutions,” Søren Molin concludes.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and Rigshospitalet were also in the organizing committee.


Find more info from the conference on Twitter using #post_antibioticera.

Follow us on Twitter: @DTUBiosustain.

Read more about NNF's Copenhagen Bioscience Conferences here.


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