"There hasn't been a completely new antibiotic registered since 2003," Marcel Jaspars, professor of Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, says in a statement to the press released on Thursday.
Jaspars is leader of PharmaSea, a project that will involve scientists from across Europe and other parts of the world plunging up to 8km below sea level to retrieve samples from previously untapped depths of the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
The project is backed by £8m of European Union funding, and the 24 partners comprise academic, industrial, and not-for-profit concerns in Belgium, Britain, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
No New Antibiotics In PipelineSince penicillin, the first commercially available bug-busting drug that Alexander Flemming discovered in 1929, antibiotics have saved million and millions of lives.
If nothing's done to combat the global shortage of effective new antibiotics, then we will be "going to be back to a 'pre-antibiotic-era' in around 10 or 20 years, where bugs and infections that are currently quite simple to treat could be fatal", says Jaspars.
Most experts agree that the global antibiotics crisis has come about because of overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which has led to a rapid increase in drug-resistance in disease-causing microbes.
Plus, there are no new drugs in the pipeline.
"This is partially because of a lack of interest by drugs companies as antibiotics are not particularly profitable," says Jaspars.
"The average person uses an antibiotic for only for a few weeks and the drug itself only has around a five to ten year lifespan - so the firms don't see much return on their investment," he adds.
Cold, Deep Sea Trenches Home to Previously Undiscovered BacteriaThe project scientists will be collecting and screening samples of mud and sediment from deep sea trenches in a bid to uncover new bacteria to produce novel antibiotics.
Hardly any samples have been collected from these regions of the Arctic and Antarctic before, so the scientists will be breaking new ground.
Project co-ordinator Camila Esguerra, Industrial Research Fellow and Lecturer with the Laboratory for Molecular Biodiscovery at the University of Leuven in Belgium, explains:
"PharmaSea will not only be exploring new territory at the bottom of the oceans, but also new areas in 'chemical space'.
"With our broad platform of cutting-edge experiments to detect drug-like activity, we'll be testing many unique chemical compounds from these marine samples that have literally never seen the light of day," says Esguerra.
The team is confident of finding exciting new drug leads among the marine organisms because they live at such great depths and under some of the most extreme conditions on the planet.
Jaspars says because the sea trenches that are home to these organisms are so deep and unconnected to each other, they "represent islands of diversity".
Sampling with Fishing Vessels Will Be CheaperSpecialist underwater equipment costs upwards of £25,000 per day, so to keep costs down, the scientists will be using methods more commonly seen in the salvage industry to obtain their deep sea samples.
They are planning to use fishing vessels. From the fishing vessel they will use a cable reel to lower a sampler to the trench bed to collect sediment.
From the collected samples, the scientists will then culture unique bacteria and fungi, which they can then extract and refine to look for new bug-busting drugs.
Sampling begins later this year in the Atacama Trench of the Eastern Pacific Ocean about 100 miles off the coast of Chile and Peru.
The team will also be taking samples off the coast of Norway in the Arctic ocean, and in the Antarctic ocean. And they are also planning to sample other deep sea trenches near New Zealand.
Drugs Could Be Ready for Use in Ten YearsIf all goes to plan, the team hopes the drugs they discover will be ready for patient use in ten years.
Jaspars says he is "delighted" to be leading the project, and they have "considered every step of the discovery process and will strive to make it more efficient" in order to speed up the delivery of new drugs to treat multiple-drug-resistant bacteria.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD