The increase in infections with multi-resistant bacteria, caused by the widespread use of antibiotics in the food industry and in medicine, poses a growing threat to patient care and a major challenge to our healthcare system. To counter this development, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports the career path of qualified young scientists in application-oriented infection research (https://www.gesundheitsforschung-bmbf.de/de/10747.php).
The funding initiative "Junior Research Groups in Infection Research" is intended to enable the establishment of a research group as well as the prerequisite for an appointment as a university lecturer in infection research. Within the framework of the funding initiative, Dr. Alexander Simonis, assistant physician at the Clinic I for Internal Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne and scientist at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Cologne, was able to successfully acquire funding. Dr. Simonis' junior research group focuses on the development of new antibody-based immunotherapies to more effectively treat severe bacterial infections.
"We are mainly concerned with the development of antibodies that can bind specifically to bacterial virulence factors and thereby inhibit them," says Dr. Simonis. Virulence factors are components of a pathogen that determine the pathogenic effect and enable infection of the host. "There is a particular focus on developing antibodies against multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, because they are difficult to treat due to their primary and acquired antibiotic resistance and can cause life-threatening infections," Dr. Simonis further explains.
Targeted antibody-mediated inhibition of certain virulence factors could mitigate severe infections in this regard and lead to a survival advantage. "In addition, prophylactic administration of antibodies would be conceivable in patients with an increased risk of infection, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation. Since virulence factor-targeted therapy with antibodies is not subject to classical resistance mechanisms of bacteria, such as increased degradation of antibiotics, our work represents a promising approach in the treatment of infections with multidrug-resistant pathogens and could expand future therapeutic options," emphasizes Dr. Simonis.
The grant is based on results obtained in collaboration with PD Dr. Dr. Jan Rybniker (Clinic I for Internal Medicine) and Univ. Prof. Dr. Florian Klein (Institute of Virology) at the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC/ZMMK). The preliminary work was further made possible by support of Dr. Simonis by the Cologne Clinician Scientist Program (CCSP), which intensively promotes the career of young clinician scientists at the Cologne site.