Identifying a new polymyxin for antibiotic drug development


3 Minute read

Multidrug-resistant bacteria are a leading public health threat. With the help of the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service, researchers have identified a new antibiotic to target these bacteria. The drug candidate is being tested in a clinical trial.

The outcome

Researchers at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have developed a new antibiotic. The drug, which is a new-generation polymyxin, targets multidrug-resistant bacteria.

The drug has been licensed to US biotechnology company Qpex Biopharma. A phase I clinical trial for the drug, which is now called QPX9003, began in June 2021.

The researchers identified the novel polymyxin with the help of the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service at the University of Melbourne.

The need

Antimicrobial resistance is a leading threat to global public health. If it continues to rise, it could cause an estimated 300 million deaths by 2050. It could also lead to a loss of US$60–100 trillion in global economic output. New antibiotics are urgently needed, but there are few drugs in the development pipeline.

Polymyxins are ‘last-resort’ antibiotics. They are used against multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria. This includes dangerous human pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Use of the currently available polymyxins has been limited, however, because they cause kidney damage in up to 60 per cent of recipients.

Safer and more effective polymyxins could help in the global fight against antimicrobial resistance.

The solution

Professor Jian Li from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute leads a project to discover new antibiotics. His group has developed new-generation polymyxins and tested their efficacy in mice. As polymyxins can cause kidney damage, detailed kidney histopathology is needed to confirm that they are safe to use. Professor Li has worked with the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service since 2013.

The researchers provide fixed tissue samples to the histopathology team each month. The histopathology team sections the kidney samples to capture the cortex, medulla and papilla. They then stain the sections and analyse them using microscopy. A dedicated specialist with expertise in rodent pathobiology and histology provides analysis.

The histopathology team uploads its report, analyses and digitises images to a secure online portal for the researchers to access. The researchers use this information to identify which drug candidates to evaluate further in pre-clinical studies.

To date, the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service has handled over 4000 samples for Professor Li and his team. The project is ongoing.

The platform

The Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service provides necropsy and histopathology services. Team members evaluate tissue from mice at all developmental stages. They identify features in tissue samples and determine whether they are strain-related, age-related, incidental or a true diversion from normal.

The techniques used in this project include:

  • Tissue preparation – tissues are sectioned and stained for analysis
  • Tissue analysis – stained tissue samples are examined using microscopy
  • Tissue grading – tissue samples are scored using a standard matrix, which describes the degree of change from normal tissue.


Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute


PCT/AU2016/050915, filed 29 September 2016

PCT/AU2015/050149, filed 1 April 2015


Yun B et al (2018) Polymyxin B causes DNA damage in HK-2 cells and mice. Archives of Toxicology 92: 2259 – 2271. doi: 10.1007/s00204-018-2192-1

Azad MAK et al (2018) Methionine ameliorates polymyxin-induced nephrotoxicity by attenuating cellular oxidative stress. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 62:e01254-17. doi: 10.1128/AAC.01254-17

Zhu C et al (2017) A traceless reversible polymeric colistin prodrug to combat multidrug-resistant (MDR) gram-negative bacteria. Journal of Controlled Release 259: 83–91. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2017.02.005

Banner image supplied by the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service.

Contact us

If you have a problem that could be solved by the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service team please contact us.

Tina Cardamone
+61 3 8344 8044

Banner image: New antibiotics are excluded from further study if they cause kidney damage - shown as numerous tubular casts and tubular necrosis in this tissue sample from a mouse kidney. Banner image supplied by the Phenomics Australia Histopathology and Slide Scanning Service.

First published on 4 October 2021.

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