TORONTO—In mid-February, Affinium Pharmaceuticals announced initial success of its Galapagos compound screening program in the identification of the first potential drug targeted against a novel bacterial pathway in almost 40 years. The program offers the potential to develop new classes of antibiotics to fight the drug-resistant superbugs that plague the world's healthcare systems.
Using their structure-guided drug discovery platform, re-searchers at Affinium have developed a new class of drugs that inhibit critical enzymes involved in essential bacterial fatty acid biosynthesis. As company Chairman and CEO Dr. John D. Mendlein explains, this approach offers Affinium a strategic advantage for antibacterial intervention as no other companies have targeted this pathway.
"Our antibiotics will be available in both oral and intravenous formulations, with improved safety profiles and excellent activity against staphylococcal superbug infections," says Dr. Mendlein. "Compounds in the program are efficacious against a number of other disease-causing agents, and we are working on follow-on products in addition to our lead candidate.
"For some, it will be considered risky. We hope that others in the medical community will welcome the multiple opportunities for breakthrough medicines."
Dr. Menlein expects the company will likely avoid working with a big pharma partner to further develop these drugs and bring them to market, preferring to develop the drugs on their own in collaboration with a clinical research organization and perhaps contract manufacturing organizations.
"We intentionally decided not to partner Galapagos," he explains. "Our business strategy is to apply structure-guided drug discovery to our own compounds, to those of our existing pharmaceutical
partners (e.g., Pfizer), and to compounds that we license in."
Affinium's structure-based approach benefits from two of their three founders being associated with the Structural Genomics Consortium, a not-for-profit corporation with locations in Toronto and the United Kingdom.
"There is no question that Toronto has a medical biotechnology community that is particularly rich in early-stage expertise, particularly structural biology," he adds. "We need to build businesses big enough to discover, develop, and market drugs in a competitive global environment, and that means developing a mindset that accepts fewer, bigger, riskier investments over periods of time consistent with the drug development process. Toronto provides huge opportunities for pioneering companies like Affinium."
The results of the Affinium program could have significant impact on healthcare as the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of hospitals reporting bacterial infections that appear to be resistant to most antibiotics. The most prominent of these so-called superbugs is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but many hospitals are even finding bacteria resistant to the traditional drug-of-last-defense, vancomycin.
"Superbugs cause tremendous healthcare problems that include increased morbidity, hospital stays, and treatment failures," Dr. Mendlein says. "These hard-to-treat infections cost the healthcare system many millions of dollars in North America alone, and are now moving into community care systems worldwide."
According to a recent study published in The Lancet, MRSA alone accounts for 5000 deaths annually, and hospital-acquired or nosocomial infections cost Britain's National Health Service £1 billion each year. Thus, the need for a new understanding of how to control these infections is long overdue.