Insects: A New Source for Therapeutic Drugs?

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CSIRO Entomology today announced the establishment of a company dedicated to producing a wide range of therapeutic drugs from a virtually untapped source – insects.

“Entocosm Pty Ltd has been established to develop the leading global position on developing drugs from insects,” CSIRO’s Chief Executive, Dr Geoff Garrett, said.

There are around 250,000 plant species on earth but there are more than four million insect species. Microbial diversity is also huge, although 99% of bacteria cannot be cultured in the laboratory.

“The plant and microbial worlds have long been targets for discovery of therapeutic drugs, but insects have been left virtually untouched,” Dr Garrett said.

“With four million species to be looked at, there is great potential for discovery of hugely important therapeutic drugs in the future.”

Insects utilise an unparalleled array of biologically active substances. These include molecules that kill cancer cells, proteins that prevent blood from clotting, enzymes that degrade pesticides, proteins that glow in the dark, anti-microbial peptides and toxins. Australia, with its mega-diverse biota and advanced scientific infrastructure, offers unique potential for discovery.

Entocosm’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Stephen Trowell (a CSIRO scientist for the past 13 years), will work with: Emeritus Professor, Rod Rickards, from the Australian National University; and, Clinical Associate Professor at The Canberra Hospital, Peter Collignon, to identify novel drug candidates from insects.

Due to the urgent demand for new agents to treat drug-resistant pathogens, the team will initially focus on discovering new antibiotics.

“Dr Trowell’s team has already uncovered a wealth of novel antibiotic potential from insects and the formation of Entocosm Pty Ltd enables the company to screen CSIRO’s unique library of insect extracts and develop the novel drug leads through the drug discovery pipeline,” Dr Garrett said.

“CSIRO Entomology has provided many solutions for crop protection, animal health and environmental management and it is exciting to see this new development in the human health area,” he said.

The company has appointed the New York-based firm, Malcolm Binks Associates LLC, as its investment bankers to raise capital from US and Australian investors.

Further information:

Dr Stephen Trowell, Chief Scientific Officer, Entocosm, (BH) + 61 2 6246 4126

Mr Sid Jain, Business Development Manager, (BH) + 61 2 6246 4033, (Mob) 0408 115 839, CSIRO Entomology

Clinical Associate Professor Peter Collignon, (BH) +61 2 6244 2105

The Canberra Hospital

Emeritus Professor Rod Rickards, (BH) +61 2 6125 3507

Australian National University

Media Assistance:

Mrs Sharon Corey, CSIRO Entomology, (BH) +61 2 6246 4136

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