LOEWE Center for
Insect Biotechnology
& Bioresources

Natural product research

Natural product research

The treatment of bacterial infections is hindered to an increasing extent by the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unlike with gram-positive bacteria, there is hardly an option for treating in particular infections with certain multi-resistant gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. All antibiotics currently used against gram-negative bacteria are derived from natural metabolic products of microorganisms (fungi and various soil bacteria). However, no truly new structure has come onto the market in the past 60 years, for the following reasons. (1) Problems in research, since screening of chemical libraries and extracts did not result in new structures, (2) Problems during development, since placebo-controlled trials are not possible for serious infections, and last, but not least (3) the economic situation: treatment lasts about 1–2 weeks, meaning the market volume is far smaller than for chronic diseases.

The development of new antibiotics against these problematic bacteria is therefore one of the most urgent goals to that the Fraunhofer Project Group Bioresources and the Sanofi-Aventis Germany GmbH – the only global pharmaceutical company still operating antibiotic research in Germany – are committed. For this reason, the Sanofi-Fraunhofer Natural Product Center of Excellence was established in 2014 as private public partnership. In this center scientists of the Fraunhofer Project Group and the Sanofi-Aventis Germany GmbH cooperate in order to promote the discovery and development of innovative compounds for the treatment of bacterial infections. The joint team is led by Prof. Dr. Andreas Vilcinskas (Fraunhofer Project group Bioresources) und Prof. Dr. Peter Hammann (Sanofi-Aventis Germany GmbH).

The focus of the collaboration is to establish innovative techniques for inducing microorganisms to produce previously undiscovered antimicrobial natural substances. On the basis of the fact that microorganisms typically produce antibiotics only when they compete with other microorganisms, interrelationships between different microorganisms are replicated in the laboratory. Sanofi is contributing the largest industrial collection of strains – comprising more than 120,000 microorganisms – to the cooperation with FhG. In addition, unusual microorganisms that are in some cases difficult to cultivate are being investigated as potential producers of new antibiotics, for example insect symbionts or microorganisms that occur in close association with insects, which use the bacteria to defend their nest. One focus in screeening is gram-negative bacteria.

The cooperation is supported by a multidisciplinary team of well-known scientists from the Justus Liebig University (JLU) and the University of Applied Sciences of Central Hesse (THM) in Giessen. In exchange, Sanofi gives its academic partners access to the complete translational chain required for developing a lead compound.