Taking up the fight against bio-warfare pathogens

Bio-warfare agents can cause potentially lethal infections and many species are becoming increasingly resistant to available antibiotic treatments.

DMTC’s collaboration with research partners at the University of Western Australia, DST, the Peter Doherty Institute and the University of Wurzburg is focused on delivering novel therapeutics that directly target the macrophage infectivity potentiator (Mip) protein.

Mip proteins are found in a wide range of bacterial pathogens, and are known to be important to the survival of bacteria within host cells. Mips are responsible for protein folding and by inhibiting their activity, the ability for the bacteria to grow is severely limited. By directly targeting these proteins, slower growing bacteria provides the opportunity for the host immune system to fight the bacteria without causing antimicrobial resistance.

Potential bio-warfare agents include Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis, and Coxiella burnetii which causes Q fever, are both endemic in northern Australia and the tropical regions to Australia’s north. They are of significant interest to Defence as Australian and international troops are often deployed in these regions and personnel can be severely affected by the diseases which they cause.

The project team’s initial work has successfully demonstrated the novel compounds successfully inhibit the Mip protein from the B.pseudomallei pathogen and they are now working to see if the same compounds have activity against Coxiella burnetii and Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterial causative agent of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD).

The successes achieved by the team to date, while significant, are just one step on the journey from the laboratory to a fielded solution. Next steps for this three-year project include optimising the performance of the inhibitors, with the aim of progressing to pre-clinical trials.