Herbert Waldmann, Ph.D., director of the chemical biology department at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology
Herbert Waldmann, Ph.D., director of the chemical biology department at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology

The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology (MPI) and AiCuris said today they will partner to discover new antibacterial drugs to treat viral and bacterial infections, through a collaboration whose value was not disclosed.

AiCuris will gain access to MPI’s proprietary collection of natural product-based compounds. The company will join researchers led by Herbert Waldmann, Ph.D., director of MPI’s chemical biology department, to investigate and optimize compounds that are found to show activity against bacteria or viruses, and which they conclude have the potential to be developed into anti-infective drugs, the partners said.

“The expertise of MPI scientists in chemical biology partnered with AiCuris' proven experience in drug development could result in the discovery and development of innovative approaches to fight bacterial and viral resistance,” Dr. Waldmann said in a statement. “Natural products have been an invaluable source of novel antibiotics, and the concepts developed at MPI Dortmund for the design and synthesis of novel natural product (NP)–inspired compounds could pave the way to the discovery of new drugs.”

Dr. Waldmann’s lab focuses on developing novel strategies for the synthesis of NP-inspired compound collections and using them to study biological phenomena. Through the lab’s Biology Oriented Synthesis (BIOS) program, Dr. Waldmann and colleagues have synthesized various focused NP-inspired compound collections in collaboration with MPI investigators Andrey Antonchick, Ph.D., and Kamal Kumar, Ph.D.

“The underlying 3D structures of evolutionarily selected NPs define structural prerequisites for binding to proteins because NPs are (a) biosynthesized by enzymes (proteins) and (b) they exert their biological functions by binding to them,” Dr. Waldmann states on MPI’s website, in a summary of his lab’s research concept. “As a consequence, the structural scaffolds of NP classes are endowed with relevance to nature and provide evolutionarily selected starting points in chemical structure space for compound collection design and development.”

Dr. Waldmann’s lab employs cell-biological, biochemical, and biophysical methods to find modulators of various cellular processes, followed by cell-based screens designed to find the targets of active compounds: “We are paying special attention to identifying small molecules that regulate the function and activity of Ras family GTPases.”

The collaboration “is based on a long-lasting scientific partnership and joint research interests,” AiCuris and MPI stated, adding: “It aims to further strengthen the already existing relationship to fuel an in-depth collaboration.”

“We strongly believe the development of new antibacterial drugs is crucial to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are killing around 25,000 people every year in Europe,” added AiCuris CEO Holger Zimmermann, Ph.D. “One way to develop a resistance-breaking drug is to disregard well-trodden paths and explore new opportunities. We are very excited to be working with the MPI and its proprietary library of nature-derived compounds, as nature has often proven to be the perfect blueprint for innovative concepts.”

Based in Wuppertal, Germany, AiCuris was spun out of Bayer's virology and bacteriology research divisions in 2006. AiCuris discovers and develops novel antiviral and antibacterial agents to treat severe and potentially life-threatening infectious diseases—including (multidrug)-resistant hospital-treated pathogens, the focus of its antibacterial effort. The company’s name is derived from the phrase “anti-infective cures.”

Over the past six months, the first drug developed from AiCuris’ pipeline, Prevymis™ (letermovir), has won U.S. and European approvals pursued by development partner Merck & Co. Prevymis is indicated for prevention of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and disease in adult CMV-seropositive recipients [R+] of an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

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