Phages as a promising alternative to antibiotics
The Vienna-based biotech company Phagomed wants to establish therapies with phages – viruses that infect bacteria – as an alternative to antibiotics. For 2020, a Series A financing round is planned to proceed with the three drug programs. Currently, the start-up is focusing particularly on advancing a new treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), based on phage lysins. The highlight of this approach: They target the pathogenic bacteria without harming the rest of the microbiome.
Since its foundation in November 2017, Austrian Phagomed has specialised in developing phage-based drug candidates for the treatment of severe bacterial infections in humans. “Phages and endolysins offer effective alternatives to antibiotics blunted by bacterial resistance, and they work very precisely without destroying the natural microbiome. What’s more, they can combat bacteria in impenetrable biofilms, where antibiotics are ineffective independent of resistances,” explains PhagoMed’s co-founder and co-CEO, Lorenzo Corsini.
Currently, the company has three active development programs in the fields of implant associated infections, urinary tract infections, and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). In Autumn 2019, the BV candidate was added to the pipeline. PhagoMed has isolated Gardnerella-specific phage lysins based on the company’s phage biology platform, optimised them by genetic engineering, and filed a patent application for this class of recombinant endolysins.
More precise BV treatments are urgently needed
For Corsini, BV is an attractive indication, because it affects between 10% and 30% of women worldwide, making it not only the most frequent vaginal infection with a more than 50% recurrence rate, but also one of the top reasons for antibiotic prescriptions and antibiotic resistance. Werner Mendling, a professor and gynaecologist at the German Center for Infections in Gynecology and Obstetrics in Wuppertal, Germany, is convinced that new treatments are urgently needed. “Millions of women suffer from recurrent BV – despite the widespread use of antibiotics. We need to find more precise solutions for combating the biofilm that forms on the vaginal epithelial cells,” he says. To advance the program, in late 2019, Phagomed received a €1m grant from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency. In addition, the company has set up a new development team for BV, which is cooperating with vaginal microbiome specialists at Ghent University, and has recruited the previous Head of Pre-Clinical development at Austrian Affiris AG, Christine Landlinger-Schubert, as the director of the lysin program. According to Corsini, “phage lysins are able to specifically target Gardnerella without harming the microbiome, and they are able to attack resistant bacteria, making them prime candidates to treat BV.“ Mendling also believes that such a strategy could be a promising approach: “Next generation BV therapies should combine precision with efficacy. Killing facultatively pathogenic bacteria, such as Gardnerella spp., while preserving the vaginal microbiome could become the new gold standard for BV therapy.”
For 2020, the company seeks further capital to proceed into the clinical phase over the next two years in its lead programs. So far, Phagomed has raised more than €6.5m in private funding and public grants. “Now, we are raising a larger Series A,” says Corsini.
This article was published in the European Biotechnology Magazine Spring Edition 2020 released on 9th April 2020.