LONDON - RiboTargets Ltd., of Cambridge, which focuses on RNA as a drug target, has been awarded a #100,000 (US$163,406) government grant for the development of novel antibiotics.

Simon Sturge, CEO of RiboTargets, told BioWorld International the grant "will help us sustain a portfolio of three programs. It will contribute one-third of costs over 15 months on antibacterial work."

The grant is awarded to help small companies start new projects, and also represents a response to government worries about the spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

RiboTargets' antibiotic research is attempting to discover novel chemical entities which are not subject to the resistance mechanisms that have evolved in pathogenic bacteria. The target is the GPTase center, the region of the bacterial ribosome which is responsible for protein synthesis. The company is using its expertise in RNA structure determination by nuclear magnetic resonance to determine the three-dimensional structure of the GTPase center. This information will provide the basis for structure-based design of compounds that selectively bind to this region of the ribosome.

"This approach differs from many existing programs in the pharmaceutical industry, which focus on the alteration of existing antibiotics," Sturge said. "Although this approach is yielding new drugs, these compounds remain susceptible to resistance mechanisms found in most serious pathogens. To finally overcome the problem of resistance, we believe that a truly novel compound with a previously unexploited mechanism of action will be required."

RiboTargets' two other projects are using the same structure-based approach to RNA to develop treatments for HIV and hepatitis C. Sturge said these projects are progressing well, and he is in discussions with potential partners. The company was founded in July 1997, around research sponsored by the Medical Research Council, which is publicly funded. RiboTargets raised #7 million from investors including Apax Partners, Advent International and 3i plc. Sturge said the company will not need to raise more money this year.