Professor Ades wins GlaxoSmithKline competition to develop new antibiotics

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Sarah Ades, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, today was announced by GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) as a winner of its Discovery Fast Track competition, which is designed to accelerate the translation of academic research into novel medical therapies.

Ades is one of eight winners in the competition, which received 142 entries in 17 therapeutic areas from 70 universities, research institutions, cities and hospitals in the United States and Canada. The research collaboration between GSK and Ades's lab at Penn State will focus on "a novel approach for an anti-microbial agent class of antibiotics for gram-negative bacteria." Ades's research is focused on understanding how this important class of "gram negative" bacteria, some of which are resistant to most current antibiotics, are able to survive harsh conditions in the environment and in the body -- and then to discover how those survival mechanisms can be disabled by new kinds of antibiotics.

"Antibiotic resistance is increasing in common gram-negative bacteria like E. coli, and is spreading throughout the world, making antibiotic resistance one of the top public-health challenges," Ades said. At a time when the pace of new antibiotic development has slowed dramatically, health professionals and scientists, including Ades, are concerned that a return is possible to the conditions of the pre-antibiotic era before the 20th century, when bacterial infections were a major cause of death, especially in children. "We need new research approaches to develop new antibiotics to combat this threat," Ades said. "Winning the competition with GSK provides my lab with an exciting opportunity to help find a solution to this serious problem."

Before her selection as a Discovery Fast Track winner, Ades had developed -- in collaboration with Kenneth Keiler, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State -- a successful "high-throughput screening assay" as a tool for very efficiently finding compounds that could put a disabling roadblock in the way of a bacterium's fundamental survival mechanism. As part of her project with GSK, Ades will use this assay to screen the GSK library of 1.8 million compounds and will collaborate on using other screening approaches, as well.

"The experience of interacting with researchers at GSK during the application process for this award has led to a different way of thinking about my research -- to envision taking research from an idea, to a high-throughput screen, to a drug candidate, then ultimately to the clinic," Ades said. "I am a basic scientist and firmly believe in the essential importance of basic research, and I also think that my basic research will be influenced by this experience with GSK. I have other projects in the lab that are focusing on bacterial stress responses and antibiotic resistance. While I will continue to focus on the basic research, working with GSK will give me some of the skills and perspective to develop more translational approaches, as well. Our society has a dire need for new antibiotics."

GSK describes its Discovery Partnerships with Academia program as a new approach to drug discovery in which academic partners become core members of drug-hunting teams. GSK and the academic partner share the risk and reward of innovation. GSK funds activities in the partner laboratories and provides in-kind resources to help a program progress from an idea to a candidate medicine. To date, GSK has initiated nine collaborations in nine disease areas, including two in the United States and one in Canada.

"The eight researchers we have chosen are experts in their fields of study and are passionate about translating their science into therapy, and we look forward to providing them with access to GSK's compound collection, screening capabilities and scientific expertise in drug discovery," said Pearl Huang, global head of GSK's Discovery Partnerships with Academia. "The quality of the entries, from some of the top research organizations in North America, was exceptional. We believe the winning projects represent groundbreaking research concepts that address underserved or unmet medical needs and could help to bring transformative treatments to patients."

Ades earned a doctoral degree in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1995 and a bachelor's degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University in 1988. Prior to joining the Penn State faculty in June 2002, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of stomatology at the University of California at San Francisco from 1997 to 2002 and at the Institut de Biologie Molecularie et Cellulaire in Strasbourg, France, from 1995 to 1997.

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Last Updated January 09, 2015