Searching for the next antibiotic in China

Media release for the Chinese chemical community on the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery

Global search for the next antibiotic

Researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia have launched a global search to discover antibiotics capable of combating superbug bacteria that are resistant to current antibiotics.

The Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD) is a not-for-profit initiative funded by the Wellcome Trust in the UK, and led by researchers at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

The initiative invites chemists from around the world to submit their compounds for free screening for antimicrobial activity.

Initiative Director Professor Matthew Cooper said the world is on the brink of an antibiotic apocalypse where these miracle drugs no longer work.

“We are heading towards a return to the pre-antibiotic era, when even simple infections caused death.”

China has high rates of morbidity and mortality due to increasing rates of drug-resistant infections, with the size of China’s health system – 300,000 hospitals and clinics and 2.6 million doctors - making surveillance of antibiotic use challenging.

In China, the rate of drug resistance for E. coli in blood is three times that of the UK, and 6.8 per cent of tuberculosis cases are multidrug resistant (compared to 2 per cent in most developed countries).

 “The recent gene discovered among bacteria in China is resistant to all known antibiotics,” Professor Cooper said.

“We need new antibiotics. Now it is time to act.”

UQ scientists will screen over 50,000 chemical compounds by June 2016, at no cost to the academic providers of the compounds.

“CO-ADD aims to help researchers around the world find new, diverse compounds to combat the superbug crisis,” Professor Cooper said.

“Each year chemists around the world make millions of compounds, most of these are not designed as antibiotic drugs and would not otherwise be screened for antimicrobial activity.

“The next antibiotic could be out there, sitting on someone’s shelf.”

UQ President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj said CO-ADD complemented the global campaign to fight antibiotic resistance.

“This support from the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-largest charity for biomedical research, shows just how important this ground-breaking approach is,” he said.

“Here at UQ, we’re working to find answers to global problems, translating research into practical solutions.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said antimicrobial resistance was not a new problem – Fleming acknowledged it when accepting the Nobel Prize for discovering penicillin.

“The problem we face today is that no new classes of antimicrobials have been discovered and marketed since the late 1980s, and without new antimicrobials to turn to when resistance develops, the bugs start to win.

“We could see a return to the pre-antibiotic era when 40% of mortality was due to infections.”

“Technologies such as this could hold the key to antimicrobial drug discovery in the future,” she said.

CO-ADD screens compounds against strains of bacteria and fungi that cause life-threatening infections, with all results made available to the research community.

The UQ-based team will establish the world’s first antimicrobial-focused open access database of chemical compounds to help researchers understand how antibiotics work and the types of compounds that could become an effective antibiotic.

Chemists can submit their compounds or find out more information online at

Chemists from Guangzhou and Peking University have screened compounds and joined the CO-ADD initiative. In 2016, the CO-ADD team will do a roadshow around Chinese Universities. If you are interested in connecting with the team and finding out about the roadshow please contact

Contact: CO-ADD Marketing and Communications Officer Ruth Neale,, +61 (0) 487 955 790

Chinese translation here

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