Nobel Prizes are normally awarded to scientists whose fundamental discoveries have had a major impact over a number of years in the particular field of scientific research. Just occasionally a Nobel Prize recognizes a discovery that has come directly to the consumer. From the point of view of a medicinal chemist, it’s notable that two good examples of this concern the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, not for chemistry. In 1988 the Nobel Prize was awarded jointly to Sir James Black, and Drs Gertrude Elion, and George Hitchings for their establishing ‘important principles for drug treatment’, which in practice meant the discovery of β-blockers (Black) and antibacterial agents (Elion and Hitchings). As I write the news has come through that this year the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura for their discovery of the antiparasitic drug, avermectin, and to Youyou Tu for her discovery of the antimalarial drug, artemisin. In both cases, the clinically used products today are derivatives of the naturally occurring compounds that the Nobel Laureates discovered and are further telling examples of a tradition of drug discovery based upon compounds isolated from plants and microorganisms.

I don’t wish to imply that our research has the necessary requirements of Nobel Prize standing but these achievements and their ultimate recognition are both an encouragement and a validation of our efforts to provide new compounds to treat infectious diseases by modification of natural products to give selectivity and suitability for medicines. Our most advanced compound, MGB-BP3, is progressing well in phase 1 clinical trials in a formulation designed to treat Clostridium difficile infections. Our development partner, MGB Biopharma, has also developed an intravenous formulation for the treatment of other Gram-positive bacterial infections building upon basic science from the University of Strathclyde. MGB-BP3 is the first in a line of new anti-infective compounds that ultimately work by controlling gene expression by binding to the minor groove of DNA in the target organism, according to the best evidence we have. It’s one of a family of compounds that we call Strathclyde MGBs (S-MGBs).

We now have S-MGBs that are effective against a wide range of infectious organisms in particular Gram-positive bacteria and trypanosomes, the disease-causing agent of sleeping sickness. We’ve been able to make such progress and to create such an impact for several reasons. Firstly the S-MGB platform uses very flexible heterocyclic chemistry so that we can tune the properties of our compounds to target different pathogens whilst remaining safe for the infected host. Secondly, we have strong team-work between many academic colleagues in chemistry and biology at Strathclyde but also at the University of Glasgow. Thirdly, we’ve worked in partnership with MGB Biopharma; the company’s ability to raise funds in a difficult economic climate and to drive through the development programme for MGB-BP3 has been extraordinary.

The outcomes of our research are targeting problems equally important today as those that the Nobel Prize winners addressed when beginning their research. According to current plans, we should begin to see the impact of our compounds in 2018, assuming that clinical development continues successfully.


Prof Colin J Suckling OBE DSc FRSE

Research Professor of Chemistry

Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry

University of Strathclyde

Tel: 0141 548 2271


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