A NEW drug developed by WA company Chemeq could make a huge impact on the agricultural world.Chemeq’s polymeric antimicro-bial drug may provide the ultimate solution to a debilitating E.coli infection, which affects about 50 per cent of all newborn piglets, killing 20 per cent of these.Following the success of five piggery trials, which showed the Chemeq drug to be superior to both commercial vaccines and antibiotics in the treatment of post-weaning colibacillosis, the company this week made its first sale of the drug.The sale, to an overseas piggery, is the company’s first step into a lucrative piglet market, estimated to be worth $1.2 billion a year.The drug also has the potential to treat the same disease in cattle and poultry, with these additional sectors pushing the market beyond $2 billion. Research and trials will soon be held into the use of the drug in the poultry sector.Chemeq chairman and chief executive officer Dr Graham Melrose said the company would limit the initial release of the drug so it could could assess effective use patterns in commercial and field conditions.Dr Melrose said the company now was looking to build a small scale pilot plant in an industrial area, with a view to later expansion.“We plan to start small and increase our operations within two to three years … we project that eventually we will make several thousands of tonnes each year that will go throughout the world,” he said.The secret to the success of the drug lies in its unique structure, which makes the product safe and highly effective.“It works so well because it has a series of functional groups on the molecule and they react aggressively and non-selectively to germs,” Dr Melrose said.“It attacks any germs because it reacts with protein, which is always present in the outer walls of germs.“And it is incredibly safe because the actual size of the molecule prevents it travelling across the intestinal membranes in the animals’ bloodstreams.”The other impressive element of the Chemeq drug is that, although it is non-selective, it does leave “good” bacteria located in an animal’s lower intestine.“The germ that we want to kill lies in the uppermost part of the piglet’s intestine, so when the drug meets with the germ it gets stuck into it there,” Dr Melrose said.“Once it has done its work, it travels further into the intestine where it meets with food and irreversibly reacts and joins with food molecules and becomes ineffective as an antimicrobial. So it doesn’t upset the good germs once it reaches the lower intestine.”He said the antimicrobial also had a secondary use as a preservative in cosmetics, where its size prevented it from crossing membranes, such as the skin, and causing any allergic reactions.
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