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Healthy lives

Fighting infection without antibiotics

More than 300,000 people in the UK are believed to suffer with food poisoning caused by the campylobacter bug every year.

The bacteria is commonly found in poultry – over 65% of chicken on sale in the UK has been found to be contaminated – and is a leading cause of gastroenteritis which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Annually, it costs the global economy hundreds of millions of pounds. I have been working alongside Akeso Biomedical Inc, an American company, to develop an iron compound which provides an antibiotic-free solution to the problem.

The Fe3C compound, an iron chelate, is added to chicken feed and prevents campylobacter from binding to the wall of the bird’s gastro-intestinal tract. Unlike the antibiotics which are typically used to treat the condition, the compound does not destroy the bacteria, so it cannot become resistant to it. The emergence of microbes resistant to antibiotics is a huge global threat to human and animal health.

Our work is significant because it identifies a new way of treating one of the world’s most common bacterial infections without the use of antibiotics.

"This $5.9 million project has involved extensive collaboration between biochemists, microbiologists, vets, venture capitalists and the world of business"
Professor Panos Soultanas

This multi-million project has involved extensive collaboration between biochemists, microbiologists, vets, venture capitalists and the world of business.

After successful commercial field trials involving millions of birds across 4 countries, the company progressed the technology from concept to market readiness in under 6 years, attracting over $9 million of private investment. 

Akeso Biomedical's CEO commented, "this significant achievement demonstrates not only the success of your innovative approach, but also a successful technology transfer that will provide much needed products to improve animal and human health." 

The product is now ready to be commercially available and has not only health impacts but also huge economic impacts, improving efficiency in poultry production and reducing the use of antibiotics in farming. 

As a scientist, it is immensely inspiring and rewarding to see technology being translated all the way from the lab bench to the commercial world in this way. 

Panos Soultanas

Panos Soultanas is a Professor of Biochemistry and Biological Chemistry, School of Chemistry.

Further reading:

Akeso Biomedical website

Food Standards Agency. 2022. Report into the sources of human Campylobacter infection published.

Gardiner, L., Coyle, B J., Chan, W C., Soultanas, P., Discovery of antagonist peptides against bacterial helicase-primase interaction in B. stearothermophilus by reverse yeast three-hybrid. Chem Biol. 2005, 12(5):595-604. DOI: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2005.04.007 

Machón, C., Lynch, G P., Thomson, N H., Scott, D J., Thomas, C D., Soultanas, P., RepD-mediated recruitment of PcrA helicase at the Staphylococcus aureus pC221 plasmid replication origin, oriD. Nucleic Acids Res. 2010, 38(6):1874-88. DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkp1153

Khattak, F., Paschalis, V., Green, M., Houdijk, J., Soultanas, P., Mahdavi, J., Inhibition of Campylobacter biofilm and colonisation; TYFER® Chelate, inhibits Campylobacter Jejuni Biofilm Formation and Caecal Colonization in Broiler Chickens Poultry Science, 2018, 97(4), 1391-1399. DOI: 10.3382/ps/pex413

Currie, D., Green, M., Dufailu, O A., Pitoulias, M., Soultanas, P., McCartney, E., Lester, H., Van Den Eede, L., Apajalahti, J., Mahdavi J., Dietary supplementation with ferric tyrosine improves zootechnical performance and reduces caecal campylobacter spp. load in poultry British Poultry Science 2018, DOI: 10.1080/00071668.2018.1507015

Skoufos, I., Tzora, A., Giannenas, I., Bonos, E., Tsinas, A., McCartney, E., Lester, H., Christaki, E., Florou-Paneri, P., Mahdavi, J., Soultanas, P.,. Effect of dietary ferric tyrosine (TYFER™) on performance, intestinal health and meat quality of broiler chickens exposed to natural Campylobacter jejuni challenge. Livestock Science, 2019, 221, 44-51. DOI: 10.1016/j.livsci.2019.01.008

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