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Spin-Off Company Developing New Antibiotics

MRSA bacteria

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in brown spheres, surrounded by cellular debris. (NIAID, NIH)

21 September 2018. A start-up enterprise in the U.K. is commercializing research from a university lab that discovered a new class of antibiotics promising to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections. The company, Amprologix Ltd., is a spin-off business founded by microbiologist Matthew Upton at University of Plymouth, and already attracting stakeholders from the country’s science-based industries.

Upton’s lab at Plymouth studies pathogens responsible for infections becoming resistant to current antibiotics. The problem, notes World Health Organization is global and growing. The organization says new mechanisms of resistance to antibiotics are emerging that threaten our ability to combat infections from pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhea, and foodborne diseases. Some of the problem is a result of overuse of antibiotics, with lifestyle and behavioral changes (e.g., vaccination, hand washing) helping to slow the rate of resistance.

Nonetheless, new classes of antibiotics are needed with different mechanisms for treating infections, with some 5,000 deaths per year in the U.K. alone attributed to ineffective antibiotics, according to a government statement. Upton’s lab studies genomic sequencing in bacteria with computational analysis to identify patterns that offer targets for new antibiotic drugs. From these findings, the lab discovered bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides produced by bacteria themselves.

One of those bacteriocins discovered at Plymouth, known as epidermicin, derived from natural skin bacteria. Epidermicin was shown in tests with lab rats to kill dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, bacteria often found in health care facilities, with a single dose, while multiple doses of other antibiotics are often required. Amprologix aims to further develop epidermicin as a topical cream to treat MRSA and other stubborn infections. The company also plans to create other antibiotic classes, and boost antimicrobial properties of bacteriocins with artificial intelligence and synthetic biology.

In addition, Amprologix plans to develop industrial-scale facilities for production of epidermicin and further antibiotics. The company’s partner in this effort is the Edinburgh-based industrial biology enterprise Ingenza, already a collaborator with Upton’s lab at Plymouth. Ingenza is taking an equity stake in Amprologix, as is Frontier IP, a research commercialization enterprise in the U.K., and UMI3 Ltd, the research commercialization organization at University of Manchester. Frontier IP’s stake in Amprologix is 10 percent, while the equity holdings by Igenza and UMI3 were not disclosed.

Amprologix is the second company founded by Upton. In 2014, he started Spectromics, based in Manchester, developing a diagnostic technology to determine appropriate dosages for antibiotics, and prevent overuse of the drugs.

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