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Finding Answers Where You Least Expect Them

Posted on November 19th, 2018 by in Pharma R&D

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The hard work of drug development often goes down well-worn paths that can be tedious, time-consuming and frustrating, but – with time and dedication – can yield exciting results. Sometimes, however, scientists who think outside the box find themselves taking unconventional routes in their efforts to create innovative new therapies.

For some researchers, it’s about looking in unusual places for answers. Researchers at Rockefeller University have gone digging (quite literally) for new antibiotics by collecting thousands of dirt samples. As a news announcement on the university website explains, “Employing an innovative technique to sequence the genes of microbes living in soil, the researchers recently announced they have found a new class of powerful antibiotics called malacidins, which they hope could be effective against multidrug-resistant bacteria.” Although human trials appear to be years away, in animal testing the malacidins have already been shown to wipe out infections, including some that were resistant to more traditional antibiotics.

While looking in the dirt for antibiotics might be pretty counterintuitive, turning to a notorious virus for solutions seems even more crazy. Yet Duke Cancer Institute researchers have been using a modified form of poliovirus to kill tumor cells with great success. The immunotherapy that they have developed, which was designated by the FDA as a “breakthrough therapy” in 2016, has been shown to improve survival for glioblastoma patients. DukeToday reports that in a phase I clinical trial, the 3-year survival rate was 21%, compared to just 4% for patients that had undergone Duke’s previous standard treatment.

In some cases, it may turn out that the cure you need is already in use – but for a very different purpose. A research project at the University of Liverpool is looking at compounds typically used on snake bites and bee stings for the treatment of eye infections. A research team there is seeking an alternative to antibiotics to treat microbial keratitis, a corneal infection that can potentially lead to loss of sight.

According to an announcement on the university’s website, “They have found that the bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which accounts for a third of all cases of this condition, produces toxins that are similar to those present in snake venom or bee stings.” Funding from the UK charity Fight for Sight will enable the team to investigate the effectiveness of anti-toxin treatments on the condition.

These are just a few examples of researchers taking unexpected paths in discovery and development. Many scientists are finding that thinking outside the box can lead to promising new approaches and unexpected breakthroughs. Now more than ever it’s important to be open to unusual (and sometimes even slightly strange) ideas – you never know when success might be just around the corner.



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