Multidrug resistant (MDR) bacteria have adapted to most clinical antibiotics and are a growing threat to human health. One promising type of candidates for the everlasting demand of new antibiotic compounds constitute antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). These peptides act against different types of microbes by permeabilizing pathogen cell membranes, whereas being harmless to mammalian cells. Contrarily, another class of membrane-active peptides, namely cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), is known to translocate in eukaryotic cells without substantially affecting the cell membrane. Since CPPs and AMPs share several physicochemical characteristics, we hypothesized if we can rationally direct the activity of a CPP towards antimicrobial activity. Herein, we describe the screening of a synthetic library, based on the CPP sC18, including structure-based design to identify the active residues within a CPP sequence and to discover novel AMPs with high activity. Peptides with increased hydrophobicity were tested against various bacterial strains, and hits were further optimized leading to four generations of peptides, with the last also comprising fluorinated amino acid building blocks. Interestingly, beside strong antibacterial activities, we also detected activity in cancer cells, while non-cancerous cells remained unharmed. The results highlight our new candidates, particularly those from generation 4, as a valuable and promising source for the development of future therapeutics with antibacterial activity and beyond.

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