UK-South Africa 'Antibiotic Accelerator' Hub

An international UK-South Africa research collaboration to discover and accelerate the development of new antibiotics from biodiverse-rich habitats, the deep ocean and polar environments

What is the problem?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health emergency and new antibiotics are urgently needed to restore the antibiotic drug discovery pipeline. 

Natural products - complex molecules assembled by biosynthetic pathways in microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi), are valuable pharmaceutical leads with the potential to develop into clinically useful molecules, including new antibiotics.

Marine environments are an untapped reserve of potential natural products and exploration is needed to bioprospect for new antibiotic discovery leads.    

What is the solution?

To help address this, a new inititiave funded by the Newton Fund, aims to accelerate the discovery of novel compounds from natural products that have the potential to be developed into new antimicrobial drugs.

Investigators from the UK and South Africa are joining together to create an ‘Antibiotic Accelerator Hub’ to enable them to explore biodiverse rich habitats, deep oceans and polar environments for novel and natural compounds. The goal is to use these naturally derived products for the development of new antibiotics.

The South African investigators, led by Prof Rosemary Dorrington (Rhodes University), will form the ‘Natural product research network’, alongside a UK research consortium led by Professor Mathew Upton (Plymouth University) with partners at the universities of Bristol, Leeds, St Andrews and Aberdeen.

Prof Paul Race (School of Biochemistry) is leading the team in Bristol, where he already leads Bristol's Natural product antibiotics from the deep-sea  research programme which bioprospects marine sponges for microorganisms producing natural  product componds with antimicrobial activity.  

Next steps

The collaborative work is underway.  It is hoped that this collaboration will not only benefit healthcare globally but will also support the bio-economies of both South Africa and the UK, ensuring fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of any new drugs arising from the research with communities in low-and-middle income countries (LMICs).

The £1.9M award also includes funding for a seed project, which will explore the diversity of antimicrobial peptides in South Africa to identify potential new antibiotics. This element is led by Dr James Mason (King's College London) and Prof Anabella Gaspar (University of Pretoria), with contributions from the universities of Warwick and Sheffield, and Public Health England.


Researchers involved

  • Project lead UK - Prof Mathew Upton (University of Plymouth)
  • Project lead South Africa - Prof Rosemary Dorrington (Rhodes University) 
  • Bristol lead - Prof Paul Race (School of Biochemistry) 

External collaborators

  • University of Leeds
  • University of St Andrews 
  • University of Aberdeen 


Newton Fund through the:
UK Medical Research Council
South African Medical Research Council

Contact (Bristol lead)

Prof Paul Race
Tel: +44 (0)117 33 11835

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