• Project to fight AMR backed by ERC funding
    Stephen Cochrane (Credit: QUB)

News & Views

Project to fight AMR backed by ERC funding

Mar 07 2023

A mission to help develop new types of antibiotics that can target and kill bacteria that are resistant to current antibiotics, led by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) researcher Dr Stephen Cochrane, has received a European Research Council Award of €1.5 million. It is the twelfth ERC award given to a QUB academic since the scheme opened in 2007. The project will run for five years and will be supported by five early career researchers.

Dr Cochrane, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at QUB explains: “Almost all of our antibiotics work by crossing the cell membrane to get inside the cell and once they are inside, they disrupt an essential process, which then kills the cell. The problem is that many compounds can't cross the cell membrane and for those that do get inside, the cell can neutralise their effect, rendering them useless.”

The aim of Dr Cochrane’s team will be to create new chemical tools that will enable the discovery and development of antibiotics capable of destroying the harmful bacteria.

 “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest challenges to human health. If it continues to develop at the current rate, the negative impact on global health and the economy could be much worse than the impact of Covid-19.”

“To combat AMR, we need to develop new antibiotics. In the past 60 years only five new classes of antibiotics have been approved for clinical use. A major hurdle in antibiotic discovery is finding antibiotics that can cross the cell membrane and overcome the resistance mechanisms of these cells.

“My project ‘NEW HOPE’ offers a new approach to antibiotic discovery. Instead of looking for targets inside the cell, I’ll focus on cell-surface targets. To do this, my team will use the tools of synthetic organic chemistry and molecular biology to develop new tools for antimicrobial discovery and unlock novel antibiotics."

President of the European Research Council, Professor Maria Leptin said: “It is a pleasure to see this new group of bright minds at the start of their careers, set to take their research to new heights. I cannot emphasise enough that Europe as a whole - both at national and at EU level - has to continue to back and empower its promising talent. We must encourage young researchers who are led by sheer curiosity to go after their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their frontier research is investing in our future.”

Dr Cochrane added: "I'm hugely honoured to have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. I’m very thankful to my amazing mentors and colleagues for the help and support they provided during this journey. I look forward to building a new research team and tackling such an important global challenge."

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