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Antimicrobial Resistance Fund Invests in Two Biotechs

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Pseudomonas aeruginosa colony (Harvard Medical School, NIH)

4 Apr. 2022. A pharmaceutical industry venture fund is investing in two developers of new treatments for bacterial infections becoming resistant to antibiotics. AMR Action Fund based in Boston is investing in Adaptive Phage Therapeutics in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Venatorx Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Malvern, Pennsylvania, although precise dollar amounts of the investments were not disclosed.

AMR Action Fund —  AMR stands for antimicrobial resistance — was formed two years ago by 23 pharmaceutical companies and foundations to fund research and development of new drugs to combat the problem. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria or fungi mutate making current antibiotics ineffective in controlling their spread, leaving patients with fewer options in treating infections. The problem is compounded by overuse of antibiotics by humans or with animals, creating more opportunities for microbes to mutate and become resistant to current drugs.

The AMR fund cites data showing drug-resistant infections responsible for 1.27 million deaths each year, with the number of annual deaths expected to grow to 10 million by 2050. Yet, as noted by World Health Organization, new infection treatments in the pipeline do not address the most dangerous forms of resistant bacteria, and put many advances in modern medicine, such as organ transplants, at risk. The fund says it’s raising $1 billion to support two to four new antimicrobial resistance drugs by 2030. Science & Enterprise reported on formation of the fund in July 2020.

“We plan to commit over $100 million in capital this year,” says AMR Action Fund CEO Henry Skinner in a statement, “in companies developing clinically differentiated antimicrobials with the potential to treat the most urgent unmet clinical needs, and we will continue investing in promising biotechs in the years ahead to ensure that patients around the world have the treatments they need in the ever-evolving fight against superbugs.”

Participation in second and third venture rounds

Adaptive Phage Therapeutics is spun off from U.S. Navy research labs that study multiple drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs. The Navy lab’s projects include phage-display methods to reveal and exhibit interactions among proteins, peptides, or nucleic acids. To display these interactions, the techniques harness bacteriophages, viruses infecting bacteria that connect proteins or peptides to their genetic codes. Adaptive Phage Therapeutics acquired rights to that technology in 2017, and develops precision antibiotics and companion diagnostics for treating people with superbug infections.

The company now has four treatments for infections or complications in early- or mid-stage clinical trials: prosthetic joint infections, chronic recurrent urinary tract infections, lung infections related to cystic fibrosis, and diabetic foot osteomyelitis, a swelling from foot ulcer infections in people with diabetes. The AMR Action Fund investment is an extension of the company’s second venture funding round in June 2021.

Venatorx Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2010, creates drugs for multi-drug-resistant bacterial infections and viral infections considered difficult to treat. The company’s lead product, cefepime-taniborbactam, is an antibiotic combination designed to treat difficult gram-negative bacteria, including drug resistant strains of Enterobacterales and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Last month, the company announced initial results of a late-stage clinical trial of cefepime-taniborbactam as a treatment for complicated urinary tract infections, with data showing non-inferiority with a current antibiotic, the trial’s primary endpoint, but also statistical superiority over the current drug.

Venatorx’s pipeline has two other therapies for multi-drug resistant bacteria in preclinical study or an early-stage clinical trial, as well as an antiviral treatment for hepatitis B. The AMR Action Fund investment is leading the company’s third venture round, announced today, with participation by Venatorx’s current investors.

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