Novo Holdings ponies up $165M for superbug venture fund

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi were responsible for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in 2013, according to CDC estimates. (Steve Buissinne)

Novo Holdings is taking aim at drug-resistant superbugs with a $165 million venture fund.

The new Repair Impact Fund is on the lookout for startups, early-stage companies and corporate spinouts in Europe and the U.S. that are working on therapies targeting resistant microorganisms. It will invest between $20 million and $40 million per year over a period of three to five years, Reuters reported.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi were responsible for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in 2013, according (PDF) to CDC estimates. The CDC is urging doctors to prescribe antibiotics more discerningly, but this isn’t enough—bacteria will keep finding ways to resist antibiotics.

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“Anti-infective resistance [is] one of the world’s most pressing medical problems. Although this growing issue is being generally recognized, the antibiotic pipeline remains thin,” the Repair Impact Fund said.

While the rise of antibiotic resistance is not a new concern, no new class of antibiotics has been approved in decades, largely because they share targets with other drugs to which bacteria are becoming resistant.

New approaches to tackle superbugs include molecules made up of antibodies and lysins, which bind to carbohydrates on cell walls. These human-germ hybrids attach to bacterial cells and trigger an immune response to destroy the bacteria. In a different tack, Canadian researchers are attacking a pathway that many drug-resistant bacteria share—a sodium pump that supplies energy to more than 20 types of pathogenic bacteria.

Other researchers are looking for new and improved antibiotics. Scientists at the University of Queensland re-engineered the antibiotic vancomycin, finding it has the potential to fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE). And stateside, a Rutgers-led team discovered a new antibiotic, produced by a microbe found in soil, which could be useful against bacteria that have become resistant to the antibiotic rifampin.