The Silent Pandemic: Startups Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance

July 27, 2023

Antibiotics are a mainstay of modern medicine, revolutionising the treatment of infectious diseases worldwide. By killing or preventing bacteria from reproducing and spreading in humans or animals, they make for the most important type of agent in fighting bacterial infections. However, a significant threat to the achievements of the antibiotic era is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), which is the ability of bacteria to resist the effect of antibiotics for which they were initially sensitive to. Coined the silent pandemic, AMR results in infections becoming more challenging to cure, raising the risk of a serious disease and even death. 

Linked to the overuse or misuse of antibiotics, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms poses an urgent risk to global public health. AMR levels dramatically increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, reversing previous gains in tackling this growing challenge. With a large strain on healthcare systems, resources, personnel and attention were diverted away from AMR diagnosis and management, towards COVID-19 detection and contact tracing. AMR studies have been largely hampered, and surveillance programs have been delayed or stopped. 

According to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policy, “Following a particularly active period of antibiotic R&D from 1940 to 1980, there have been relatively few new antibiotics developed over the last three decades… The new antibiotics that have received market approval in recent years have often been adaptations of pre-existing antibiotics and therefore vulnerable to cross-resistance.”  Therefore, getting new, better, and more innovative drugs is vital. 

As natural-born problem solvers, startups and SMEs have stepped up to the plate and are driving the current advances in antibiotic research and development. 

Aurobac Therapeutics was born as a joint venture between three life-science companies, aiming to develop and commercialise safe and effective drugs to tackle antimicrobial resistance and infectious diseases. By creating the next generation of precision medicines, associated with rapid diagnostics to identify pathogens and their resistance mechanisms, the pipeline of drug candidates for hospitalised patients is promising. 

The IN-ARMOR project is an EU funded public-private partnership between biopharma startup Akthelia Pharmaceuticals and the University of Iceland, seeking to address AMR using an innovative immunotherapeutic approach. By introducing immune system inducers to enhance the body’s microbial defence mechanisms, this project aims to combat AMR and reduce some of the most dangerous types of infections. 

Bugworks is a Bangalore-based startup working on developing novel antibiotics to combat drug-resistant infections. By leveraging cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, Bugworks continues to develop innovative therapeutics tackling AMR in clinical trials worldwide.

Similar to Covid-19, antimicrobial resistance does not respect national borders and demonstrates the need for collective action. Startups have been at the forefront of antibiotic R&D, challenging traditional antibiotics and creating the next generation of therapies tackling AMR – ultimately protecting countless lives worldwide.