CARB-X funds University of Queensland to accelerate the development of a new class of last-resort antibiotics to treat deadly superbug infections

CARB-X funds University of Queensland to accelerate the development of a new class of last-resort antibiotics to treat deadly superbug infections

First Australian project in the CARB-X portfolio

The University’s Octapeptin engineered peptides aim to replace last-resort polymyxin antibiotics with a new antibiotic that has no damaging toxic side effects 

(BOSTON: June 22, 2020) – CARB-X is awarding up to US$3.83 million to The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Brisbane, Australia, to develop a new class of antibiotics to treat serious drug-resistant bacterial infections. The Institute will be eligible for an additional $7.03 million if the project meets certain development milestones, for a total award of up to $10.86 million.

The University of Queensland’s project aims to identify Octapeptin cyclic peptides that maintain their antibacterial potency against polymyxin-resistant Gram-negative pathogens, but have fewer side effects.  The goal is to develop a safer antibiotic to replace last-resort polymyxin class antibiotics, such as colistin, that are used to treat life-threatening drug-resistant infections for which no other antibiotics will work. Last-resort polymyxin class antibiotics can cause severe kidney and neurological side effects.

The peptide will be developed for treatment of a range of serious infections including complicated urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections, as well as pneumonia.

This is the first CARB-X award to an entity in Australia. The University is also the first academic institution to secure CARB-X funding for a drug development project.

“Drug-resistance represents an increasing global threat to human health. Innovative approaches, like the novel antibiotic peptides being developed by the University of Queensland, are urgently needed to address this crisis,” said Erin Duffy, Chief of Research and Development of CARB-X. “In our hospitals today, patients are being treated with last-resort antibiotics that can cause damaging side effects, and in some cases, do not even cure the infection. We are in a race against superbugs, and if the University of Queensland project is successful, it has the potential to treat drug-resistant infections safely and effectively, and to save lives.”

The project’s chemistry leader Dr. Karl Hansford said: “Use of polymyxin, a last-line antibiotic, has surged in recent years due to the lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline, but it has severe side-effects. Low doses are required to avoid toxicity but low doses can be ineffective against infection and can promote antibiotic resistance.

“We’ve demonstrated that our Octapeptin-X (OPX) antibiotics exert a unique killing action, positioning OPX as an ideal development candidate for the safe and effective treatment of drug-resistant infections deemed untreatable by conventional therapies, including polymyxin.”

Supporting innovation to address the global drug resistance crisis

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 700,000 people die each year worldwide from drug-resistant bacterial infections, and that number is increasing as resistance grows.

With the world’s largest and most diverse antibacterial portfolio, CARB-X is currently funding the development of 42 innovative antibiotics, vaccines, rapid diagnostics and other life-saving products, to address the rising spread of drug-resistant bacteria. Since it was launched in 2016, with the University project, CARB-X has awarded more than $240.5 million to 64 antibacterial research projects in eight countries – United States, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Japan, India and Australia.

CARB-X is a consortium led by Boston University and funded by a global partnership. CARB-X is investing up to $500 million in antibacterial R&D between 2016-2021. The goal is to support projects through the early phases of development through Phase 1, so that they will attract additional private or public support for further clinical development and approval for use in patients. The scope of CARB-X funding is restricted to projects that target drug-resistant bacteria highlighted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2013 Antibiotic Resistant Threats list, or the Priority Bacterial Pathogens list published by the WHO in 2017 – with a priority on those pathogens deemed Serious or Urgent on the CDC list or Critical or High on the WHO list.

This news release is supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number IDSEP160030 from ASPR/BARDA and by an award from Wellcome Trust. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the HHS Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, or other CARB-X funders.

CARB-X contact:
Jennifer Robinson,, +1 514 9148974

University contact:
Media: IMB Communications,, +61 (0)4 0566 1856
Prof. Matt Cooper, +61 466 152914
Dr Karl Hansford,, +61 7 3346 2107, +61 (0) 420 402778
Dr. Mark Blaskovich,, +61 414 955380

About CARB-X
Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X) is a global non-profit partnership dedicated to accelerating early development antibacterial R&D to address the rising global threat of drug-resistant bacteria. CARB-X is led by Boston University and funding is provided by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) in the US Department of Health and Human Services , the Wellcome Trust, a global charity based in the UK working to improve health globally, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the UK Department of Health and Social Care’s Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund (GAMRIF), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and with in-kind support from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). A non-profit partnership, CARB-X is investing up to $500 million from 2016-2021 to support innovative antibiotics and other therapeutics, vaccines, and rapid diagnostics that address drug-resistant bacteria. CARB-X supports the world’s largest and most innovative pipeline of preclinical products against drug-resistant infections. CARB-X is headquartered at Boston University School of Law.  Follow us on Twitter @CARB_X.

About The University of Queensland and the Institute for Molecular Bioscience
For more than a century, The University of Queensland has educated and worked with outstanding people to deliver knowledge leadership for a better world. Across our three campuses, UQ’s 6600 staff and 53,600+ students deliver and experience unparalleled teaching, learning and research excellence that creates positive change globally.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience is a multidisciplinary life sciences research institute of The University of Queensland. Its 500 scientists use world-leading infrastructure to drive discoveries from genome to drug design, disease discovery application and sustainable futures. Its research is framed through centres focused on superbugs, inflammation, pain, genomics, solar biotechnology and heart disease and development.

The US Department of Health and Human Services works to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans, providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. Within HHS, ASPR’s mission is to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats. ASPR leads the nation’s medical and public health preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disasters and public health emergencies. BARDA provides a comprehensive, integrated, portfolio approach to the advanced research and development, innovation, acquisition, and manufacturing of medical countermeasures – vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products for public health emergency threats. These threats include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents, pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases. NIH is the primary US federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. NIAID conducts and supports research — at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses.

About Wellcome Trust
Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. The Wellcome Trust is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 210183. Its sole trustee is The Wellcome Trust Limited, a company registered in England and Wales, no. 2711000 (whose registered office is at 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK)

About Boston University 
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 17 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada. For further information, please contact Jeremy Thompson at