A start-up that fights su­per­bugs

Ben­galuru-based Bug­works ex­pects to be­gin hu­man tri­als in two years

The Hindu Business Line - - NEWS - BLOOMBERG

Anand Anand­ku­mar’s fa­ther was a physi­cian who spent his ca­reer fight­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases in Chen­nai. It was an in­fec­tion that killed him.

In and out of hospi­tal for a fail­ing heart, he picked up a bug re­sis­tant to most an­tibi­otics and died of com­pli­ca­tions from sep­sis. The story is a com­mon one in the coun­try, where so-called su­per­bugs kill nearly 60,000 new­borns ev­ery year.

The rapid spread of re­sis­tant bac­te­ria has now made the coun­try the epi­cen­tre of a war to pre­vent a post-an­tibi­otic world, where peo­ple would once again die in their thou­sands of com­mon­place in­fec­tions. “We’re on the front line,” said Anand­ku­mar, who co­founded Ben­galuru-based start-up Bug­works Re­search In­dia a year af­ter his fa­ther’s death, to de­velop new an­tibi­otics. “We’re cre­at­ing a bul­let against or­gan­isms that are tak­ing out hu­man­ity. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a bat­tle­ground to test it on that’s re­ally tough?”

The war is on

The theatre of war is all around him. Years of poorly- con­trolled an­tibi­otic use in hu­mans and an­i­mals, com­bined with ef­flu­ent from the local drug in­dus­try that turned lakes and streams into breed­ing grounds for re­sis­tance, has left the coun­try with few weapons to fight in­fec­tion.

Faced with this, the gov­ern­ment has be­gun to act, pro­vid­ing early-re­search fund­ing to start-ups like Bug­works and Anand Anand­ku­mar, co-founder, Bug­works Re­search In­dia

pro­vid­ing ad­vice and sup­port. The gov­ern­ment funds the start-up in­cu­ba­tor, which Bug­works shares with 21 other biotech firms.

Last year, Bug­works be­came the first com­pany in Asia to re­ceive in­vest­ment from CARB-X, the US gov­ern­ment’s main fund­ing ve­hi­cle for the fight against su­per­bugs.

Gov­ern­ments have be­gun to take con­certed ac­tion in the last few years. In 2015 the US launched its Com­bat­ing An­tibi­otic Re­sis­tant Bac­te­ria ini­tia­tive.

The fol­low­ing year, the UK gov­ern­ment com­mis­sioned a re­port that found su­per­bugs kill about 700,000 peo­ple around the world each year, a fig­ure that could rise to 10 mil­lion a year by 2050 if noth­ing is done.

Bug­works’ an­swer is an an­tibi­otic that at­tacks bac­te­ria in two ways at once rather than the sin­gle-tar­get ap­proach of tra­di­tional drugs, mak­ing it harder for the bug to de­velop re­sis­tance. The drug also evades the bac­te­ria’s own de­fences, giv­ing it more time to kill the in­fec­tion.

Anand­ku­mar says the com­pound has shown ef­fec­tive­ness against lung, blood and uri­nary tract in­fec­tions in an­i­mals. In about two years he says it should be ready for hu­man tri­als.

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