The difficulty in treating Gram-negative bacteria can largely be attributed to their highly impermeable outer membrane (OM), which serves as a barrier to many otherwise active antibiotics. This can be overcome with the use of perturbant molecules, which disrupt OM integrity and sensitize Gram-negative bacteria to many clinically available Gram-positive-active antibiotics. Although many new perturbants have been identified in recent years, most of these molecules are impeded by toxicity due to the similarities between pathogen and host cell membranes. For example, our group recently reported the cryptic OM-perturbing activity of the antiprotozoal drug pentamidine. Its development as an antibiotic adjuvant is limited, however, by toxicity concerns. Herein, we took a medicinal chemistry approach to develop novel analogs of pentamidine, aiming to improve its OM activity while reducing its off-target toxicity. We identified the compound P35, which induces OM disruption and potentiates Gram-positive-active antibiotics in Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Relative to pentamidine, P35 has reduced mammalian cell cytotoxicity and hERG trafficking inhibition. Additionally, P35 outperforms pentamidine in a murine model of A. baumannii bacteremia. Together, this preclinical analysis supports P35 as a promising lead for further development as an OM perturbant.
Keywords: Gram-negative bacteria; antibiotic adjuvant; drug uptake; medicinal chemistry; membrane perturbation; pentamidine.