New Antibiotics Developed by Université de Rennes 1 and Inserm

These new antibiotics are effective against Gram-positive and negative multi-resistant bacteria, but they also appear not to trigger resistance when used to treat infection in mice. Such are the promises of the two new molecules created by Prof. Brice Felden and his team at Université de Rennes 1 and Inserm ‘Bacterial Regulatory RNAs and Medicine’ joint laboratory (U1230), in conjunction with a team from Rennes Institute of Chemical Sciences (ISCR). This French advance could bring both fresh impetus and new possibilities for fighting antibiotic resistance worldwide. Details on this research were published July 9 in Plos Biology.

Graphism on a picture of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria seen through electron microscopy - CDCP via Wikimedia Commons
  1. A natural molecule originally both antibiotic and toxic for our cells
  2. Little resistance observed under experimental conditions
  3. Reference

A natural molecule originally both antibiotic and toxic for our cells

Antibiotics have saved so many lives over the previous century of their use in humans that they are considered to be one of the major breakthroughs of contemporary medicine. Unfortunately, growing resistance is gradually rendering them ineffective, with the threat of catastrophic public health consequences should this trend continue much longer. The few new antibiotics being brought to market essentially consist of so-called me-too drugs – meaning that they are derived from existing classes of antibiotics.

Researchers from Inserm and Université de Rennes 1 recently identified a new bacterial toxin which they transformed into potent antibiotics active against various bacteria responsible for human infections, whether Gram-positive or negative.

It all started with a fundamental discovery made in 2011”, explains Brice Felden, Director of the Bacterial Regulatory RNAs and Medicine laboratory at Université de Rennes 1.


We realized that a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus whose role is to facilitate infection is also capable of killing other bacteria present in our body. What we had identified was a molecule with dual toxic and antibiotic properties. We thought that if we could separate these activities, we would be able to create a new antibiotic non-toxic to the body. A challenge that we accepted!

In conjunction with the team of ISCR chemist Michèle Baudy Floc’h, a new family of so-called peptidomimetics was synthesized. As their name suggests, these peptides are inspired by the existing natural bacterial peptides but have been shortened and modified. Out of the twenty molecules created, two proved effective against resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in mouse models of severe sepsis or skin infection. In addition, no toxicity to the other cells and organs, whether in animals or human cells was observed. These new compounds are well tolerated at their active doses – and even beyond – and are devoid of the renal toxicity issues often encountered with this type of compound. “We tested them at doses 10 to 50 times higher than the effective dose without seeing toxicity” specifies Felden, adding that “the participation and imagination of the team and our chemist colleagues was needed to devise the most active molecules possible”.

Peptide No 19 synthetised by the Research Unit - © I. Nicolas, V. Bordeau et al.


Little resistance observed under experimental conditions

Important to note was that the bacteria that the researchers had left in contact for several days in the animals with these antibiotics showed no signs of resistance. In order to go further, the researchers created conditions favorable to the development of resistance in vitro and in vivo – with nothing happening. However, caution is still required here given the short experimental time periods (up to 15 days).


Activity of "peptide No 19" on multi-resistant bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa - On the left, bacteria from the comparison group. On the right, the peptide has degraded the membrane - © I. Nicolas, V. Bordeau et al.

The antibacterial activity of these peptidomimetics is partially due to the capacity of its non-natural amino acids to reinforce the association of these compounds with the membranes of the infectious bacteria. This strong binding leads to membrane permeability and the death of the bacteria. “We think these new molecules represent promising candidates for the development of new antibiotics that can provide alternative treatments to antimicrobial resistance.”

The next step involves launching phase I clinical trials in humans. The patent has been licensed and a start-up created.


Novel antibiotics effective against gram-positive and -negative multi-resistant bacteria with limited resistance
Irène Nicolas, Valérie Bordeau, Arnaud Bondon, Michèle Baudy-Floc’h and Brice Felden
PLOS Biology - 9th July 2019

Last updated: PMWed, 10 Jul 2019 16:56:18 +0200Wed, 10 Jul 2019 16:56:18 +0200pm19