A global drive – led by University of the West of Scotland (UWS) – to tackle a drug-resistant superbug has received additional funding.

The successful international research project – to source antimicrobial agents that could help tackle a drug-resistant superbug – was recently awarded an additional £59,000 in grant funding. 

The project, a collaboration between UWS and Cairo University, aims to identify antimicrobial agents that could be used in the fight against a bacteria called Acinetobacter baumannii. The bacteria was highlighted by the World Health Organisation as a critical global concern, due to its multidrug resistance and the threat it poses in hospital and care settings.

Dr Mostafa Rateb, of UWS’s School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences – an established researcher in microbial natural product chemistry – is leading the project in the UK. He said: “The initial results are promising, and the additional funding received will allow us to continue with in-vitro testing, with a view to future formulation of life saving drugs.”

The latest £59,000 funding comes after the project was awarded approximately £260,000 by the British Council in 2020.

Acinetobacter baumannii is particularly prevalent in developing countries, and can cause severe and often deadly infections, such as sepsis and pneumonia.

“The initial results are promising, and the additional funding received will allow us to continue with in-vitro testing, with a view to future formulation of life saving drugs.”

Dr Mostafa Rateb, Lecturer in Microbial Natural Product Chemistry & Drug Discovery

Although hampered by the pandemic, the initial stages of the project were highly promising, with scientists managing to isolate 150 bacteria and 108 fungi from different Egyptian habitats – finding promising soil-derived microbial agents that show significant results against the superbug.

Dr Rateb added: “Through mining the Egyptian environment for new molecules and employing the expertise of the academic team from Egypt – and the resources of the UK team – we hope to deliver a locally sourced antimicrobial agent, that could be sustainably and economically manufactured to provide an affordable and available treatment option.”

Due to a surge in antibiotic resistant bugs, controlling dangerous hospital-borne infections is a global priority, and is particularly troublesome in developing countries, such as Egypt.

Prof. Dr. Ahmed Sherif Attia – Professor of microbiology at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Cairo University and the Egypt Principal Investigator, said: “Tackling hospital-borne infections is a clear priority for government and private healthcare sectors in Egypt. Like most developing countries, a big segment of the population depends on the supported government healthcare services, which are under enormous strain.

“The existing healthcare challenges are intensified due to a recent surge in antibiotic resistant bacteria that are difficult to treat and spread quickly. Our collaboration aims at maximising the benefit of pulling resources and expertise from both Egyptian and UK partners, to successfully achieve the project objectives, as quickly as possible.”

Establishing an effective treatment would significantly reduce worldwide hospitalisations and mortality rates associated with the bug.

Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal of Research, Innovation & Engagement at UWS, said: “This international collaboration is expected to have an enormous, positive and far-reaching societal impact, and contributes directly to several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The recent funding is testament to the strength of expertise at both UWS and Cairo University and I’m excited about the outcome of this project.