Published Friday, 06 June 2014
Queen's University, Belfast, is part of a team developing new treatments. (© Getty)
The four year project, known as INBIONET (Infection Biology Training Network), aims to develop new ways of tackling antibiotic resistant bacteria, viruses and intestinal parasites.
Six million deaths worldwide each year are caused by superbugs, according to the World Health Organisation.
About half of these deaths are caused by respiratory infections, which will provide a major focus for the project.
Professor José Bengoechea, from Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences is co-ordinating the INBIONET project which is funded by the European Commission, under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions scheme.
He is leading a team of researchers from ten partner organisations, including academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies across Europe.
Trinity College, Dublin is among the academic institutions involved.
Professor Bengoechea, who is Chair of Infectious Diseases at Queen's University's Centre for Infection and Immunity, said: "Infectious diseases are on the increase worldwide and represent a major threat to global public health.
"An increase in world travel, climate change and the continuous transfer of viruses to humans from other organisms have all contributed to the growth and spread of infections, and the growing number of so-called 'superbugs', which are largely resistant to antibiotics.
"The INBIONET project aims to develop new preventative methods and therapies to help protect the global population against these deadly infections."
He said that the international team of scientists will follow an innovative drug discovery model, known as 'host-directed therapeutics'.
"This approach is based on understanding how microbes manipulate the human body's own defenses, leaving it unable to fight infection. We aim to identify the 'achilles heels' of the body's defenses - the particular weaknesses that bacteria, viruses and parasites manipulate for their own benefit.
"By identifying these vulnerable pathways, we will be in a better position to develop new therapies to block the offending microbes and stop the infection in its tracks.
"The anticipated results of the research should initiate the development of drugs to treat infections caused by superbugs such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococci, and viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus."
The professor said that the team hope to see new treatments being available to patients in the next 10 to 15 years.
"Crucially, these treatments would target pathways within the human body, helping boost its own defences against infection, rather than targeting the infection itself. Treatments that target the human body in this way are less likely to be met with resistance to conventional antibiotics."
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