Australia’s role in addressing antimicrobial resistance


During World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, AusBiotech celebrates the leading work of the Australian life sciences industry as it prepares for the role it may take in addressing antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and the opportunities and barriers ahead of us.

With no new classes of antibiotics approved globally in more than 15 years and resistance rates to some drugs in the 95 per cent range – the time is ticking to get on top of this global health emergency.

CEO of BioDiem, Julie Phillips, said, “Australia has a chance to look at what policies are working in the US, Europe and UK to mimic successful strategies in incentivising antibiotic research and development.”

“AMR is a lot like climate change. The scientists have been warning about it since at least the 1970s, yet an understanding of the consequences and policies to drive action have only really been more evident in the last decade,” said Ms Philips.

“Industry needs to be included in AMR strategy-setting and I am hopeful this will start to happen. Given the response of Australian companies to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we have a role in problem-solving, including in AMR,” said Ms Philips.

BioDiem and its subsidiary company, Opal Biosciences, are targeting unmet needs in infectious diseases. BioDiem owns the technology for an intranasal flu vaccine, which has been licensed to the WHO for developing countries, targeting both seasonal and pandemic flu (e.g. swine or bird flu), while Opal is separately developing treatments targeting antibiotic-resistant infections.

Recce Pharmaceuticals is an Australian company pioneering a new class of synthetic anti-infectives to address the urgent global health threat posed by superbugs and emerging viral pathogens. Its lead candidate RECCE 327 will be trialled in a Phase I human clinical trial study soon.

“RECCE 327 is a broad-spectrum synthetic antibiotic formulated using synthetic polymer technology to treat blood infections and sepsis – a life-threatening inflammatory response to infection that has spread in the body, and the most expensive condition in US hospitals,” said Recce Pharmaceuticals executive director, James Graham.

“By introducing RECCE 327 as a new treatment option that can reduce the use of traditional antibiotics, it could lower the selective pressure on bacteria that leads to the development of resistance.”

One of the biggest legacies of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is that broader society is now acutely aware of the interconnectedness of our health, and attention is now turning to AMR. Life sciences leaders around the world are now increasingly focused on research and development for new antibiotics, spurred on by a sense of urgency.

Botanix Pharmaceuticals is another Australian company working against the superbugs. It recently diversified its dermatology research portfolio to include antimicrobials.

“Australia’s biotech community is beginning to respond, but its size and access to international talent and marketplaces is a challenge. That’s why we’ve taken the approach of splitting our R&D capabilities across Australia and the US, and engaged some of the world’s leading drug developers to assist our clinical development,” said Botanix president and executive chairman, Vince Ippolito.

Botanix recently announced it is bringing its first-in-human Phase II trial for a product called BTX 1801 home to Perth. This nasal medication, containing synthetic cannabidiol, will be tested for its ability to eradicate Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant S.aureus (MRSA) from the nose of individuals known to carry the bacterium in their nasal cavity. 

Strategic planning and market research firm, Biointelect, identified a need to coordinate an industry position on antimicrobial resistance. In partnership with Medicines Australia, AusBiotech, CSIRO, Pfizer and MSD they convened a workshop and developed an AMR industry position paper

Australia has specific strengths and capabilities in science and research related to immunity and infectious diseases, as well as some unique pathogens of concern to Australia and the neighbours in our region. To combat AMR successfully, the whole life science eco-system should be aligned and work together on a coordinated national AMR research programme, and ensure industry perspectives, capability and contribution are communicated in the development of the next National AMR strategy.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week takes place on 18 – 24 November and aims to increase awareness of global antimicrobial resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

Read the full feature on page 52 in the Australasian Biotechnology journal, here.