New medicines for treating tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases are still urgently needed, particularly in developing countries. The spread of antibiotic-resistant germs also results in a critical shortage of effective medications for treating and containing infectious diseases. Although this is a global problem, developing and emerging countries are particularly affected. In order to counteract this trend, researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and its Saarbrücken-based branch, the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), are now collaborating with Evotec, a leading drug discovery and development company, in a targeted search for new, effective drugs for treating tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding this collaboration over three years with 2.3 million euros.
Tuberculosis and malaria, along with AIDS, are the three major infectious diseases. Tuberculosis is one of the ten most common causes of death worldwide; in 2017 alone, ten million contracted the disease and 1.6 million died. Only increased efforts will make it possible to reduce the spread of the deadliest poverty-associated diseases. The new collaboration between the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and Evotec SE aims to close the gaps in the development pipeline for new drugs that treat tuberculosis and malaria, thus reducing the global burden of these diseases. The researchers are focusing on new drugs that enable simpler, safer and faster treatment of affected patients.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is funding the project, which has already been launched, from 2020 to 2022 to the tune of 2.3 million euros. In total, close to ten scientists and technicians will be working on the development of new drugs that treat tuberculosis and malaria for the next three years at the Saarbrücken site, as well as in Braunschweig and at Evotec-Lyon.
Prof Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI, welcomes the support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “The development of new drugs and treatments that work faster than existing therapies is urgently required by patients. In particular, overcoming the threat of pathogen resistance requires swift action. This is why our researchers at the HZI and especially at the HIPS are combining their expertise in the field of drug research with the clinical experience of our highly experienced partner Evotec SE in developing antibiotics, in order to further identify innovative candidates for medical application.”
Prof Rolf Müller, scientific project leader and head of the “Microbial Natural Products” department at the HIPS, emphasises the importance of such public–private partnerships, i.e. contractually regulated collaborations between publicly funded research and industry: “The continuation of the well-established collaboration between the HZI and the HIPS with Evotec enables us to cover a large part of preclinical drug development. Our expertise in the areas of natural product research and early drug development are optimally complemented by Evotec’s experience in the pharmaceutical development of drug candidates. In light of the decline in research activities of the pharmaceutical industry in the field of antibiotic development, this is an encouraging step towards new medications, made possible by funding from the BMGF.”
In addition, established drug candidates from previous screening programmes will be further investigated. Using a special microfluidics-based screening model, it is possible to identify and isolate new microbial natural product producers in order to generate new chemical starting points for drug development.
“The HZI and HIPS resources offer a unique opportunity to discover previously unknown structures with new modes of action, and thus potentially resistance-breaking properties. We expect the collaboration with the scientists at the HIPS in Saarbrücken to lead to a successful reciprocal sharing of knowledge and an accelerated implementation of a process leading to drug candidates,” says Dr Cord Dohrmann, Chief Scientific Officer at Evotec SE.
The Prime Minister of Saarland, Tobias Hans, praises the collaboration project and stresses the significance of the HIPS for the focus on NanoBioMed in Saarland: “The collaboration with Evotec SE and the funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are proof of scientific excellence and effective technology transfer. With the HIPS, the science and innovation location of Saarland boasts a leading light in German and international health research.”
About the HIPS, an HZI site:
The Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) is a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and was established by the HZI and Saarland University in August 2009. Its researchers are searching mainly for new agents against infectious diseases, aiming to optimise these agents for application in humans and research the ways in which these agents can be best transported through the body to the site of action. The HIPS is part of the Hanover-Braunschweig site of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF).
About the HZI:
Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), based in Braunschweig and other sites in Germany, research bacterial and viral infections as well as the body’s defence mechanisms. They have profound expertise in the field of natural product research and its use as a valuable source of novel anti-infectives. As a member of the Helmholtz Association and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), the HZI conducts translational research to lay the groundwork for the development of effective treatments and vaccines against infectious diseases.
About Evotec SE:
Evotec is a drug discovery alliance and development partnership company focused on rapidly progressing innovative product approaches with leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, academics, patient advocacy groups and venture capitalists. We operate worldwide and our more than 2,900 employees provide the highest quality stand-alone and integrated drug discovery and development solutions. We cover all activities from target-to-clinic to meet the industry’s need for innovation and efficiency in drug discovery and development (EVT Execute). The Company has established a unique position by assembling top-class scientific experts and integrating state-of-the-art technologies as well as substantial experience and expertise in key therapeutic areas including neuronal diseases, diabetes and complications of diabetes, pain and inflammation, oncology, infectious diseases, respiratory diseases and fibrosis. On this basis, Evotec has built a broad and deep pipeline of approx. 100 co-owned product opportunities at clinical, pre-clinical and discovery stages (EVT Innovate). Evotec has established multiple long-term alliances with partners including Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Celgene, CHDI, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda, UCB and others. For additional information please go to and follow us on Twitter @Evotec.
Susanne Thiele, Press Officer
Dr Andreas Fischer, Editor
Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
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