AMR Action Fund looks to tackle antimicrobial resistance with first two investments — but does the money arrive too late?
The AMR Action Fund — backed by a handful of heavyweight pharma players including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Boehringer Ingelheim and GlaxoSmithKline — has made its first two investments in the hopes of addressing the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance.
But according to CEO Henry Skinner, there’s plenty more to go around this year.
AMR has promised to invest over $100 million this year in companies developing antimicrobials that can overcome resistance, starting with Adaptive Phage Therapeutics (APT) and Venatorx Pharmaceuticals.
The former was founded in 2016 by retired NIH scientist Carl Merril and his son to build on early work Merril did in phage therapy, or the use of bacteriophages to treat bacterial infections. The company is compiling a massive library of phages — naturally occurring viruses that infect and kill bacteria — which could potentially provide protection against high-priority, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The phages are being tested on a range of infections, including prosthetic joint infections, bone infections (osteomyelitis), and lung infections. The Maryland-based biotech snagged $8 million from the US Department of Defense last September (bringing the DoD’s total contract up to $31.2 million), and AMR kicked in on a recent $61 million Series B round.
Pennsylvania-based Venatorx is a bit further along, with its lead antibiotic — being developed for complicated urinary tract infections, hospital-acquired pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia (HABP/VABP) — slated for an NDA filing at the end of this year, according to the company’s website.
Founded in 2010, the company’s name comes from the Latin word “venator,” meaning ‘“hunter,” and “Rx.” AMR led the company’s Series C round. Venatorx didn’t disclose how much it raised, but it did add that it’s also received investments from the NIAID and BARDA.
AMR was launched back in 2020 by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, in collaboration with the WHO, and backed by a long list of drugmakers. More than 20 companies have chipped in — and with an initial $1 billion, the fund set a goal last year to bring two to four new antibiotics to patients by 2030.
“We will continue investing in promising biotechs in the years ahead to ensure that patients around the world have the treatments they need,” Skinner said in a news release.
But is it too little, too late? Drug-resistant bacterial infections kill an estimated 1.27 million people annually, more than HIV/AIDs or malaria, according to Bill Burns, board chair of the AMR Action Fund. By 2050, experts guess antimicrobial resistance could lead to as many as 10 million deaths per year.
And despite the rising threat, Big Pharma has retreated from the risky field, where many antibiotics fail in development, while others “wither on the vine” due to a lack of available funding. The ones that do get approved are often used sparingly to preserve effectiveness and slow the development of further resistance.
“Our investments are substantial, but we alone are not enough to take on the global challenge of AMR,” Skinner said. “It is now imperative that policymakers around the world enact market reforms to support investment in these urgently needed medications.”