Report on GRC Antibacterials

A post-conference take on the GRC Antibacterial Development 2016 conference, held in Tuscany.

Go to the profile of Michael Chao
Mar 18, 2016
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Part of the job as an editor (and a perk, too) is that we are expected to attend conferences that represent key areas that the journal covers and/or wishes to expand into. As it is very apparent that antimicrobial resistance is on the lips of almost all microbiologists these days. I applied for and was lucky enough to attend the Gordon (GRC) Antibacterial Discovery and Development conference this past week in beautiful Tuscany (see header photo).

My goals were 3 fold: 1) to promote the journal and let potential authors know that we are an interested venue for their work; 2) to search out interesting work that would be nice additions to our pages, and 3) learn more about the state of the field of antibacterials, the future prospects of new drugs and the challenges that scientists must face in bringing these life-saving compounds from bench to bedside.

I have to commend the organizers, Jennifer Leeds (Novartis) and Heike Broetz-Oesterhelt (University of Tübingen) for organizing a very well-oiled and incident-free conference (well, many of us are waiting at the airport at the moment to see if a transport strike will affect our return plans, but I can hardly blame the GRC for this). But beyond the logistics, the organizers really built a great 50/50 balance of academic and industrial/governmental researchers. The choice of speakers spanned the entire gamut of target discovery, preclinical development (optimization, pharmacokinetic assessment), setting up human clinical trials and even touched upon the complex governmental regulatory process. For a bench-trained scientist whose thoughts are typically consumed with in vitro affinities, chemical structures and animal models, the bewildering maze of post-development steps to get a drug to market is really quite eye-opening. And, as you might expect from such a broad and multifaceted take on drug development, the discussions (in public and at meals/poster sessions) were spirited and fascinatingly complex.

Now, the rule of GRCs is that the scientific work presented is sacrosanct and confidential, so I have no spoilers to talk about here. But what I can give you are my broad-stroke impressions about the open questions that the field continues to struggle with at the moment.

In no particular order:

1. What exactly is the role of academic researchers in the drug development process? Should they be focused on target discovery/assay development? Library synthesis? Should they be conducting compound screening at all? (Opinions on this question varied 180 degrees depending who I talked to).

2. Are current commercial and academic libraries good and diverse enough, especially in the antibacterial development arena? What are ways to improve this across the field, and in what directions? Natural products vs. synthetic compounds?

3. What are the pros and cons for public-private partnerships in antibacterial discovery? Do the economic models and development pipelines support the intended benefits?

4. Are we losing key drug candidates due to how regulatory agencies define proof of success? And how do we balance the rigors of clinical safety testing of new compounds with increasingly unmet patient need for these drugs?

5. And finally, are we as publishers doing a good job of tempering the promise of new drugs and exciting results with the realities of whether these new compounds have a viable future in the clinic? How do we support transparency in the field for a broad swathe of researchers and the general public? What is the role of public engagement in the development of antibacterials and funding for these programs?

While these issues are not yet solved, just to talk about these ideas made this a fantastic conference, and I would highly recommend anyone in the areas of chemical biology and chemotherapeutics to consider making the trip to this GRC in the future. And, I genuinely believe the ideas presented here will help the field to more holistically gauge the viability of any given antibacterial development program, and more fundamentally, provide opportunities to bridge the gap that can exist between academic and industrial researchers. Plus, the fact that the conference was held in the Tuscan hills this year and that we had ample opportunity to enjoy the region didn't hurt one bit (see the proof below).

    • Arriving at Renaissance Il Ciocco Hotel, the site of the conference

    • View of the town of Barga from the Hotel

    • Spend an afternoon off and hike to the nearby town of Barga for a coffee and gelato.

    • Food was very good, with a leg of veal roasted for us on the last night's dinner, complete with chef dissection.

    • A sweet finish to a great conference. See you next time, GRC Antibacterials!
Go to the profile of Michael Chao

Michael Chao

Associate Editor, Nature Microbiology

I first developed an interest in bacterial pathogenesis while at Cornell University. I then earned my PhD in Biomedical and Biological Sciences from Harvard University in Eric Rubin’s laboratory, studying cell wall remodelling in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. From 2012-2015, I continued my training as a postdoctoral fellow in Matthew Waldor’s lab at Harvard Medical School, investigating the role of DNA methylation on regulating fundamental cellular processes in Vibrio cholerae.


Go to the profile of Cesar Sanchez
Cesar Sanchez over 1 year ago

Great summary of the conference Mike! I found this meeting a fascinating eye-opener, and a great opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse group of attendees, from graduate students to PIs and from microbiologists to chemists, and beyond! The attendees could greatly differ in their specific projects and in their views of the field, but all of them showed how hard they are working towards a common goal: developing new antibacterial therapies, which the world desperately needs.

The food and the location were fantastic too :)