An Australian-first network to bring together key stakeholders on  antimicrobial resistance may end up benefiting a few Aussie biotech companies working on the the emerging public health crisis.

The Australian Antimicrobial Resistance network – AAMRNet – will at first include regional executives at MSD and Pfizer and the heads of Medicines Australia and the Australian Society for Antimicrobials.

Government-funded medical technology and pharmaceutical industry growth centre MTPConnect is providing $300,000 in initial funding to create the network.

MTP Connect managing director and chief executive Dr Dan Grant says there’s an urgent need for new antibiotics.

“There are already some infections which are nearly impossible to treat, and we’re running out of time to research and develop new treatments to combat antimicrobial resistance,” Dr Grant said.

In the COVID-19 pandemic many patients have died because of secondary bacterial infections, he said.

“However, the lack of commercial return for antibiotic development has led to most pharmaceutical companies exiting infectious diseases product development and a pipeline of new products that’s nearly dry,” he said.

Significant global health threat

Prfizer’s hospital medical director, Dr David Grolman, said that the network will inform decision-making at a national level.

“Antimicrobial resistance looks large as one of the most significant threats to global health and threatens the achievements of modern medicine,” Dr Grolman said.

All antibiotics become obsolete over time as bacteria build up resistance, even when the antibiotics are used appropriately, Dr Grolman said.

The problem is accelerated when antibiotics are overprescribed, he added.

“Compounding this problem are a myriad of scientific challenges with discovering, developing and commercialising antibiotics,” he said.

“Australia’s small population and geographic isolation also present unique challenges. There is no question we need to act now, and the network will be focused on solutions moving forward.”

Small caps could benefit

While the industry representatives of AAMRNet so far include the local representatives of the global pharma companies, Dr Grant said the body was engaged with the Commonwealth Department of Health and he expects the network to grow.

MTPConnect has doled out grant money before, and with talk that the “commercial model is broken” for developing new antibiotics, that could lead to more research money being offered in future.

A number of smaller Aussie biotechs are working on the problem of antimicrobial resistance including Recce Pharmaceuticals (ASX:RCE), privately held Opal Biosciences, Next Science (ASX:NXS) and Botanix (ASX:BOT).

Botanix executive director Matt Callahan told Stockhead that while the cannabinoid research company wasn’t involved with AAMRNet yet it planned to engage with them.

Callahan said the COVID-19 pandemic had shown just how devastating a public health crisis can be.

“The alarm bells have been going off the last five years (on antimicrobial resistance), but no one’s really believed that the global economy could be stopped and millions and millions of deaths could be caused by some kind of pathogen – but of course I think we all believe that now, sadly,” he said.

The threat from bacterial “superbugs” is just as real as the threat from a novel virus, he said.

The World Health Organisation says that if nothing is done the toll from antimicrobial resistance will be devastating, he said.

“By 2050, you’re talking about trillions of dollars of economic loss and millions and millions of lives,” Callahan said.

Botanix has a Phase 2a clinical trial underway in Perth testing its cannabinoid-based drug candidate BTX 1801 on the superbug known as MRSA or golden staph.

Next Science, meanwhile, is working on surgical lavage treatments to break down biofilm, while Recce is testing a synthetic broad-spectrum antibiotic called Recce-327.