Gates Foundation and U.K. pledge $50M to superbug treatment drive

green bacteria
New CARB-X funding round gets underway on June 1. (Gerd Altmann)

A project that aims to reinvigorate the search for new drugs to treat antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections has just picked up two more deep-pocketed backers.

The CARB-X project—which announced the new funding at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva this week—was set up two years ago as a public-private partnership to provide funding for new projects that address the global rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

It’s already raised a sizable war chest for that fight, and new commitments of approximately $25 million apiece from the U.K. government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the next three years have pushed the tally above the $500 million mark.

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They also come at an opportune time, with the next round of funding opening up at the start of June for new antibacterial, vaccine, diagnostics and preventative therapy projects. Sponsors can apply for support to take them from early development through phase 1 testing.

CARB-X is already funding 33 projects that are trying to tackle the MDR bacteria highlighted as urgently needing new treatments by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, with recent examples including Talis’ rapid test for chlamydia and gonorrhea, a blood test for infections linked to sepsis developed by HelixBind, and Forge Therapeutics’ LpxC inhibitor program for superbugs such as E. coli.

Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann said the new funding will “advance the development of vaccines and novel biologics, including monoclonal antibodies, to avert drug-resistant diseases and protect the lives of children and infants, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”

Earlier CARB-X backers have included the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which put up $250 million over five years, as well as the Wellcome Trust ($155 million) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ($50 million).

Drug-resistant infections currently cause around 700,000 deaths worldwide each year, including an estimated 23,000 deaths in the U.S. and an estimated 5,000 in the U.K., and the new funding amid rising concerns that chronic underinvestment by the biopharma industry in new antibacterials could make the situation much worse in the future.

Prof. Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said the U.K. government’s support follows concerns expressed by the 2016 independent Review on AMR—chaired by economist Lord Jim O’Neill—which estimated that by 2050 around 10 million lives a year and a cumulative $100 trillion of economic output will be at risk due from drug-resistant infections.

“Through CARB-X, the U.K. government’s Global AMR Innovation Fund will be supporting research into the development of new vaccines and other life-saving products to tackle drug-resistant infections in developing countries where the burden is greatest,” she added.

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