North-east scientists take the fight against cancer and superbugs to ‘treasure trove’ of new drugs

RGU Professor Linda Lawton, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate Josh Burns, NCIMB curator Dr Samantha Law and Dr Christine Edwards.
RGU Professor Linda Lawton, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate Josh Burns, NCIMB curator Dr Samantha Law and Dr Christine Edwards.

Scientists at Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen have joined forces with an internationally renowned microbiology and chemical analysis company to search for new drugs to fight cancer and combat superbugs.

Dr Christine Edwards, Professor Linda Lawton and Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate Josh Burns from RGU’s School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences are working with the National Collection of Industrial and Marine Bacteria (NCIMB), which is based in Aberdeen, to ‘mine’ their stored microbial cultures from around the world.

Bacteria are used to manufacture a wide range of important products, including antibiotics, and NCIMB’s culture collection has great potential as a source of valuable new compounds.

The research project has attracted more than £200,000 from Innovate UK and NCIMB through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, to scrutinise bacteria from the collection of more than 10,000 different microbes.

The aim is to find compounds that have potential for use in pharmaceutical products such as antimicrobials and anti-tumour or anti-inflammatory medication.

During the three-year project the research team will focus on new compounds from the well-known antibiotic producing bacteria, Streptomyces. There are many different strains of Streptomyces, which play an important role in organic matter decomposition, and are responsible for the familiar earthy smell of soil.

They also play an important role in antibiotic production, producing most of the clinically-used antibiotics of natural origin.

Dr Edwards, who is the lead academic from RGU, said: “It is vital that we increase the pace of antibiotic discovery as every day we see new cases of antibiotic resistance in the UK and around the world.

“We are delighted to work in partnership with our colleagues at NCIMB on this important project. Their culture collection has vast amounts of potential for new discoveries and also opens to doors to isolates from as far afield as Venezuela, Nigeria, Japan, Tibet and Hawaii, which may not have been fully assessed yet.

“This is one of the new fronts in the battle against superbugs and cancer and we’re looking forward to starting our analysis of the cultures and finding out what compounds are available which will help us in these areas.”

NCIMB curator Dr Samantha Law, said: “We are really excited about the potential of this work with the team from RGU, as we have known for a long time that we are in possession of what is potentially a treasure trove of valuable new drugs.

“Streptomyces are an obvious choice for this project and we hope that it is just the first step in a programme of work that will add value to the culture collection through the provision of more information about the strains within it.

“Since the collection was created in the 1950s, there have been significant developments in the tools available to study microorganisms, that pave the way to revealing properties and potential uses that could not have been predicted by previous generations of scientists.”

For more information about the National Collection of Industrial and Marine Bacteria, please visit: