Antibiotic resistance is futile: Sanofi and CRO seek APIs in nature

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

(Picture credit: flickr/Michael Mortenson)
(Picture credit: flickr/Michael Mortenson)

Related tags: Antibiotic resistance, Sanofi

Sanofi has partnered with German contract research organisation (CRO) Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to search for antibiotics in nature.

The collaboration could reverse a decline in the antibiotics pipeline, which the US Centre for Disease Control warned last year​ is contributing to the worldwide threat of antibiotic resistance.

Scientists from Sanofi and Fraunhofer will work together in a facility to be built in Giessen, Germany, focusing on treatment for serious infectious diseases and hospital-acquired infections that have not responded to conventional medicines.

Gram-negative bacteria

The team will analyse the genetic make-up of strains of  bacteria, “cultivating them under various conditions, stimulating them to produce active substances and investigating their effects​” Laurence Bollack, Sanofi spokesman, told

In particular​,” said Bollack, “there has been little progress in the area of Gram-negative bacteria, which include many hospital superbugs that can cause serious post-operative infections.

Currently available antibiotics were developed from compounds produced by bacteria grown in laboratories under standard conditions. Bollack explained the joint team would use a different process to create innovative antibiotics.

The scientists in the joint Sanofi-Fraunhofer research team will use a new, comprehensive approach to observe the biology of interaction and regulation in the presence of other bacteria, and will analyze the genetics of the strains.​”

Bacterial library

The team led by Peter Hammann, head of Sanofi’s infectious diseases External Innovation Unit, and Fraunhofer director Andreas Vilcinskas at a dedicated research building 40 miles north of Frankfurt named the Natural Product Centre of Excellence.

Until construction is finished, scientists will work at Sanofi’s site in Frankfurt, sourcing the organisms they will use in the research from the firm’s large natural products library, which has a collection of more than 100,000 different strains of microorganism, including bacteria and fungi.

The Sanofi Frankfurt research site has a long tradition in the development of antibiotics based on natural substances,​” said Bollack, adding that it had been used to make penicillin – another drug derived from natural products – when it was owned by Hoechst AG.

Sanofi’s tuberculosis antibiotic rifampicin is also made from compounds found in nature. 

Second-biggest killer

There is a great medical need to fight infectious diseases, said Sanofi’s president of global R&D.

This is critical given the rise of antibiotic resistance worldwide especially in the hospital setting with increasingly frequent serious, often life-threatening infections, where few advances have been made in the recent years,​” said Dr. Elias Zerhouni.

Sanofi said its research might extend its work beyond infectious diseases – the second biggest cause of death worldwide – to diabetes, pain and rare diseases.

A threat report by the US Centre for Disease Control in April 2013 said “the number of new antibiotics developed and approved has steadily decreased in the past three decades, leaving fewer options to treat resistant bacteria​.”

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