Tackling antimicrobial resistance by drug repurposing

AB-OpenLab, Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, India

In junior year of high school, I interned at AB-OpenLab, a computational biology lab at the Bioinformatics Centre, Institute of Microbial Technology, India. My research supervisor was Dr. Anshu Bhardwaj, who is also a long term fellow at the Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire, Paris.

Significance and Approach: Microorganisms have short life spans, due to which they evolve rapidly. In recent times, many microbes have evolved to develop immunity against drugs that initally killed them, a phenomenon called antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Available drugs no longer work on them, and creating new drugs is not an easy task, often taking several years of research and development. AMR has thus led to the rise of Superbugs - invincible infectious agents that ravage our healthy cells.

The situation boils down to a classic supply and demand problem - we are simply not able to develop new drugs as fast as we need them. AMR thus poses a significant challenge to public health. In 2018, the United Nations classified AMR as a global health emergency.

One way to tackle AMR is to look for new ways to use currently available drugs (or repurposing them), thus saving precious time. A popular example of drug repurposing is sildenafil, commercially available as Viagra. While it is marketed as a treatment for impotency, it was originally developed to combat high blood pressure.

My Role: I focused on understanding the emergence, mechanisms and prevalence of AMR by reviewing literature under the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Anshu Bhardwaj. I also worked on identifying spatiotemporal trends in antibiotic resistance for the top twelve priority pathogens classified by the World Health Organization. For this exercise, I used public datasets such as the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy ResistanceMap, National Institute of Health GenBank and PubMed.

Outcome: I co-authored Chapter 8 - Data-Driven Systems Level Approaches for Drug Repurposing: Combating Drug Resistance in Priority Pathogens of the book In Silico Drug Design: Repurposing Techniques and Methodologies, edited by Kunal Roy, which was published in 2019.