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Professor Receives $2 Million to Develop New Antibiotics
Kansas Ag Connection - 09/03/2019

A Kansas State University professor will lead a collaborative research project exploring new means of treating infections with antibiotics.

Michal Zolkiewski, professor and head of the Kansas State University Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a four-year $1.9 million-plus grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new antibiotics.

Zolkiewski will lead a team of investigators that includes Anuradha Roy, Frank Schoenen and William Picking from the University of Kansas.

"Decades of global antibiotic misuse and overuse along with a lack of commercial incentives to develop new drugs have brought us to a point where antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to human health," Zolkiewski said.

According to the Infectious Disease Society of America, at least 2 million Americans each year develop infections from antibiotic-resistant pathogenic microorganisms and about 25,000 of them result in death.

"The development of novel antimicrobial strategies and the discovery of new antimicrobials are highly relevant to global public health," Zolkiewski said. "We aim to develop a new paradigm of antimicrobial therapy so future generations do not face an existential threat of dying from common infections."

The Zolkiewski research group at Kansas State University has been at the forefront of studies on the biological function and biochemical mechanism of a bacterial protein called ClpB. In bacterial cells, ClpB helps other proteins maintain their activity and its role is particularly important in pathogens during infection of a host. Zolkiewski hypothesizes that ClpB could become a promising target for new antibiotics, which would exploit a previously unexplored vulnerability of pathogens: a need to protect the quality of their proteins during infection.

With support from the new NIH award, Zolkiewski and his colleagues will search for chemical compounds that inhibit ClpB and suppress bacterial growth. An interinstitutional collaboration leverages the protein biochemistry expertise in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Kansas State University and KU's prominence in pharmaceutical chemistry and drug development. The studies could eventually bring new antibiotics to the market and also provide useful information on pathogen-host interactions during infections.

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