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Home » Antimicrobial Resistance » Learning the hard way – what COVID-19 teaches us about the need for new medicines

Dr. Holger Zimmermann

CEO, AiCuris Anti-infective Cures GmbH

AiCuris is acting now, building a solid pipeline of new anti-infective treatments and having launched its Pandemic and Resistance Emergency Preparedness (PREP) initiative.

Until recently, most people have had no experience of diseases for which there are no medicines and that heavily impact the lives of a whole population. But since the arrival of COVID-19, that has all changed.

“All of a sudden, we have experienced this the hard way,” says Dr Holger Zimmermann, CEO of AiCuris Anti-infective Cures, a leading company in the field of anti-infectives and involved in combatting antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as well as COVID-19 drug development. “We have realised the big challenges when you need a medication, being it a treatment or a vaccination, and you do not have it.” And the company is convinced, this is not only true for Covid-19 but also for antimicrobial resistance with expected millions of people dying in the coming decades.

Lack of sustainable incentives

A known cause of AMR is misuse of antibiotics, not only in human medicine, but also in stock breeding. An important reason for missing innovations in the field is the lack of sustainable incentives to promote investment and research into new resistance breaking antimicrobial drugs. Certainly, over time there have been a variety of ‘push’ initiatives, where pharma is given money for research and development, but without any ‘pull’ initiatives – leading to reasonable returns for the new product – many players simply exit the market.

“If you are successful your product cures disease and is a potentially life-saving drug but physicians try to spare it because they want to save it for a future last-resort therapy. Think of it like a fire extinguisher. If you only got paid for your fire extinguishers if they are used, nobody would want to produce them either,” says Dr Zimmermann.

In April this year, as COVID-19 rates soared around the world, AiCuris started work repurposing existing drugs as potential treatments for COVID-19. According to Dr Zimmermann, the company sees a potential from a drug initially in development for Hepatitis B as a first-line therapy for early stage COVID-19. The drug works by strengthening the natural immune response of the host, which could protect mildly symptomatic patients or prevent people at risk from developing more severe disease. The company plans to start the trial of the drug soon in the face of ongoing COVID-19, as well as the threat of future pandemics.

If you are successful your product cures disease and is a potentially life-saving drug but physicians try to spare it because they want to save it for a future last-resort therapy.

Building system resilience

To build future resilience to pandemics and antimicrobial resistance crises, AiCuris is investing time, expertise and financial resources and launched a multifaceted Pandemic and Resistance Emergency Preparedness (PREP) initiative to prevent the next global pandemic and tackle AMR by boosting the development pipeline of anti-infective treatments.

A key part of this is the AiCubator, a virtual corporate incubator in the anti-infective area where novel early stage projects are supported over several years as they make their journey from basic science to later stage development assets. Dr Zimmermann explains, “Developing anti-infectives is very challenging. There are many good projects that are close to what we need, but ultimately, they fail because they are not developed according to pharma needs. With the AiCubator program we offer promising projects of academic groups or recently formed biotech start-ups our extensive expertise in preclinical and clinical drug development in the anti-infective space and provide scientific and business support.”

Interest in projects for the AiCubator, he says, is global, but with a European focus.  AiCuris describes the intensive support of research and early drug development projects as “a suitable way to accelerate the development of novel drugs that can help to avoid worldwide emergencies in the future.” Dr Zimmermann says “we do not wait for a fire before establishing fire protection measures. Why should we wait in case of life-threatening infections?”

In the sphere of AMR this means, without effective antibiotics, any surgery becomes more complicated and advances in modern medicine might be jeopardized, as people will die as a result of infections. “If we don’t find solutions, and get this situation with AMR in hand, things will very quickly become a nightmare. With recent experience of COVID-19 pandemic, we know now what it means to be really helpless.”

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