Juvabis – Too deadly to ignore

Leaders worldwide have been awakened to the fact that the bottom of the barrel has been scraped with regards to antibiotics. As new antimicrobials are fewer and farther between and resistances are mounting, new approaches are garnering more and more attention. A Swiss start-up has developed a unique technology platform to design new drugs to fight bacteria.

Juvabis’ founding story is everything but unique, muses co-founder Sven Hobbie. A group of Swiss researchers develop a new technology, file the patent, and decide to commercialise their IP. That’s how it goes...however, reality is rarely that straightforward. It took a seven-year detour across the world before Hobbie got the company off the ground. “I worked at MIT, both in Singapore and Boston,” he explains. There, he was exposed to a vigorous commercialisation of science. Hobbie felt inspired. He knew that back in Zurich, there was great potential to address the increasing problem of antibacterial resistance.

He returned to Zurich, but not without misgivings. “I left a lot behind to venture into this start-up,” he says with a smile. “But the risk of antimicrobial resistance is too deadly to do nothing.” Together with his Zurich colleagues Erik Böttger and Andrea Vasella, as well as David Crich at Wayne State University, Hobbie founded Juvabis – with a seemingly simple approach. “We focus on those bacterial drug targets that have proven most successful in medical history and apply innovative chemistry to develop new therapeutics. Since both the drug targets and the compound classes have been clinically validated, there is a high chance of efficacy in humans and limited safety concerns.” These characteristics will allow Juvabis to rapidly process its leads into clinical trials, Hobbie points out. It is crucial that drug candidates circumvent all relevant resistance mechanisms known to date. Of course, there is no guarantee that new resistances will not emerge, but that is true for any new antibiotic, Hobbie stresses. 

Today, new antibiotics are used much more carefully than in previous decades. This is exactly why big pharma has been hesitant to invest for some time. “You cannot flood the market with a new antimicrobial,” says Hobbie. New drugs would be held back to function as a last resort: this is not a profitable outlook. However, policies worldwide are beginning to change in light of dwindling anti-bacterial resources. “In [the] future, economic models will be put in place to make sure that revenue will not depend on [the] volume sold but on how the antimicrobial performs, for example, by being able to set a high price on new drugs, or by market entry rewards.” Where big pharma companies are still afraid to tread, smaller biotechs like Juvabis are picking up the slack – and the risk. “It’s true. Policy changes to incentivise antimicrobial drug development are an ongoing process,” says Hobbie. “We anticipate changes for the better, but critical details have yet to be finalised.” So far, though, he is not worried.

“We have a big advantage,” Hobbie explains. “Our preclinical development projects have greatly benefitted from support by the ENABLE programme.” The IMI project seeks to promote the development of new antibiotics against gram-negative bacteria. Juvabis is still in the pre-seed stage, working from Zurich University, though now, everything is set to move quickly. The company expects to be fully funded by the end of the year, with the first product scheduled to move to clinical trials as early as next year.

Until then, much work still needs to be done. CEO Hobbie, is especially on the job 24-7, but he tackles it with humour. “With a start-up, you need funding for hiring people, but you need manpower to maximise the chances of getting funding,” he says. “It is a Catch-22.” 

How are you going to change the world?

We are going to save lives
by bolstering the treatment options
for infectious disease. 

Company Profile

Juvabis GmbH
Founded in 2015
Based in Zurich
CEO: Sven Hobbie