Every year, 1.5 million people die from systemic fungal infections worldwide. Among the most vulnerable are patients whose immune systems have been weakened by cancer treatment, abdominal surgery or organ transplants. Infants and the elderly also are at risk.
Alarmingly, the incidence of these infections is expected to increase in coming years.
To address this urgent need, Kalamazoo-based AureoGen Biosciences is developing novel antibiotics for the treatment of systemic fungal infections that will help to reduce patient suffering, shorten recovery time and ultimately save lives. The new drugs are chemically modified derivatives of a natural anti-fungal compound called aureobasidin A, according to CEO and founder Ake Elhammer.
“We have come up with a two- to three-step synthesis process to make AbA derivatives, including antibiotics that are commercially viable, cost-competitive solutions for treating fungal and bacterial infections,” he explains. “Our drug compounds have significant advantages over existing anti-fungal drugs that have been on the market for many years.”
AureoGen Biosciences’s proprietary chemistry creates broad-spectrum drug candidates that are highly effective in killing, not just arresting, fungus. The therapeutic compounds, given intravenously or via pills, also are nontoxic, which makes them better tolerated by patients while avoiding harmful drug-to-drug interactions. In addition, their effectiveness is not compromised by drug-resistant strains of pathogens, as is the case for other drugs.
Currently, sales of drugs used to treat systemic fungal infections stand at $11.8 billion worldwide. The market is growing at 5 percent annually.
Elhammer presented to investors at the 2018 Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (now the Midwest Growth Capital Symposium) in an effort to acquaint investors with his company and raise capital for its unique drug-development project.
“Currently, we are looking for angel and venture-capital investors who will fund our ongoing preclinical and following clinical development work,” he explains. “At last year’s Symposium, I did get some technical questions from some investors, but no funding commitments.”
Elhammer estimates an investment of $4 to $5 million would enable AureoGen Biosciences to take its drug-development project past IND-enabling toxicity studies, a key milestone prior to clinical testing on humans. A larger tranche of funding, roughly $18 million, would allow the company to complete early Phase II clinical testing to reach proof of concept in man and position it to look for a partner or licensee.
“Drug discovery with small biotech companies is a very specific process and very different from other types of product development,” Elhammer observes. “The rewards can be considerable, but it requires deep pockets and a willingness to take risks.”