BIO2015 EXCLUSIVE: MedImmune Exec Says Key to Ending “Superbugs” Is Personalized Medicine

Published: Jun 19, 2015

BIO2015 EXCLUSIVE: MedImmune Exec Says Key to Ending “Superbugs” Is Personalized Medicine
June 17, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

An expert on infectious diseases who presented at Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International this week says that finding a cure for today’s “superbugs” will depend on how well the industry tackles personalized medicine, Steve Projan, MedImmune ’s senior vice president of Infectious Diseases & Vaccines research and development, told BioSpace Thursday.

Projan was part of a BIO panel Next-Gen Antibodies: Unlocking a Treasure Trove of Antigen Targets.

BioSpace caught up with Projan about what he sees happening in the field in the coming years and what steps can be taken now to help anti-biotic resistance become a thing of the past.

Do you think there will ever be a cure for “superbugs’?

One of our greatest hopes for defeating drug-resistant bacteria is to develop a diverse armamentarium of both biologics and traditional antibiotics, which can be used as monotherapy or combination therapy. For example, we have shown (in preclinical studies) that some of our antibodies targeting certain pathogens have strong potential to adjunctively treat bacterial infections by disarming bacterial virulence factors and helping to clear the bacteria, thereby augmenting the host defenses to make even marginal antibiotic therapies more effective, and to reduce the potential for co-infections.

Personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine, is also expected to play a key role in treating bacterial infections in the future. While we still don’t fully understand all of the complex interactions that allow one person to respond well to a given treatment, while others remain ill, we are making progress in developing tests -- such as the use of biomarkers -- to help us determine which patients will respond best to which treatment.

How can you use biologics to target antibiotic resistance?

Despite the increased threat, research and development of new antimicrobial agents has remained a low priority for most large pharmaceutical companies. As such, the generation of new antibiotic classes has not kept pace with resistance, and we are running out of options. This dire situation – the lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline and the belief that broad-spectrum antibiotic use has led to bacterial cross-resistance – has stimulated interest in alternative pathogen-specific strategies, including monoclonal antibody (mAb) technology for targeting the most problematic microorganisms, an area MedImmune is aggressively pursuing. We are developing and deploying next-generation technologies, and exploring new and innovative ways of using biologics to not only treat, but to help prevent some of the most challenging infectious diseases, including drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa), along with problematic respiratory viruses such as RSV and influenza.

We saw some promising data on azithromycin treating superbugs last week, any thoughts on that?

I believe that the most effective way of combating “superbugs” would be through pathogen-specific approaches, including novel means of prevention.

How do you go about filling the medicine “prevention gap”?

At MedImmune, we recognize that the old models of developing treatments for infectious disease are no longer working. We’re working to change the way it’s done and to shape a new era in the fight against dangerous and potentially deadly pathogens. We’re guided by the principle that the optimal offense against drug resistance is a strong defensive strategy to prevent serious bacterial infections, thus largely reducing the need for antibiotics in the first place and reserving them for active infections.

What are some ways global healthcare providers can start reducing the initial need for antibiotics?

The most important thing is for everyone to stay informed and understand that this is a problem. As a society, we have to support public and private research for both studying the problem and providing solutions. The healthcare provider is responsible for providing the right drug for a possible infection; too frequently, very broad spectrum drugs are used when something much more targeted toward a given infection would work just as well without causing “collateral damage.”

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