Novel compounds originally developed at the University of Sussex for use in farming may hold the key to fighting an emerging fungal pathogen which has been labelled a serious global health threat, as reported by the Press Association.

Initial tests indicate that research into substances designed to protect cereal crops from fungal pathogens could be used to tackle the threat of Candida auris – a multidrug resistant fungus that can spread rapidly in hospitals and cause life-threatening infections.

Scientists from the Mycology Reference Laboratory (MRL) have seen promising early results from applying ‘AOX’ resistance inhibitors developed by Professor Tony Moore at the University of Sussex. Preliminary tests demonstrate the potential applicability of the compound and pave the way for further preclinical and clinical development.

The Centre for Disease Control has described the difficult-to-diagnose fungus as a “serious global health threat”. The fungus, which was first identified in Japan in 2009, has now been reported in at least 15 countries including the UK – where more than 20 NHS Trusts have reported its presence.

Fungal pathogens are adept at developing resistance to treatments, in part by expressing an enzyme called the alternative oxidase (AOX), but compounds created by Professor Moore prevent this enzyme from being functional.

The search is now on for a commercial partner to speed up the development of this novel antifungal agent by redesigning it for use in a clinical setting by creating an oral dosage or a film that can be put over a wound to treat patients.

Professor Moore, who has studying AOX for more than 40 years, said: “When we first began thinking about applications for my research, our ideas centred on protecting cereal crops. But the fundamental problem here is the same whether it is a field of wheat or a human patient – fungi developing a resistance as they are exposed to ever-more potent traditional treatments.

“It’s incredible to think that something I had envisaged helping boost cereal crop production has the potential to save lives around the world. It just goes to show the benefits of always looking beyond the initial scope of a research project and pursuing it to its maximum potential. We have had a very encouraging start in tackling this infection and with assistance now there is the potential to create a simple compound that could prove to help manage this infection within 18 months.”

Initial tests conducted by MRL researchers found that at least one novel AOX compound exhibited significant antifungal activity against strains of Candida auris, with further study required to ascertain the treatment’s viability for human patients. Professor Moore is currently applying for a grant from the Biological and Bioscience Research Council (BBSRC) to move the research forward.