Bringing a new therapeutic mechanism — bacteriophage-derived lysins — to the treatment of microbial infections
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Bioharmony Therapeutics is out to change the world of antibiotics, not by tweaking an old formula, but by advancing an entirely new mode of action. Current antibiotics kill or impede the growth of bacteria by inhibiting their DNA, protein, or cell-wall synthesis — all subject to drug resistance as the bacteria adapt and evolve. Bioharmony employs lysins, enzymes produced by bacteriophage, that simply cut holes in bacterial cell walls to let new viruses depart. By using this ancient viral mechanism, which always causes the host cells to die, the company hopes to defeat bacteria’s ability to develop drug resistance.
The virtual company is quite new, starting up in 2016, and its development programs are still at the preclinical stage. It obtained license to the lysin technology from Rockefeller University in April 2017. CEO Chandra Ghose, no stranger to infectious diseases as a native of India, had worked at Rockefeller’s Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center for the previous eight years and headed the Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) vaccine program there. But she had also grown interested in the university’s Acinetobacter program, where the lysin technology had emerged. After a mentor advised her to start raising funds, a mutual colleague introduced her to Chris Garabedian of Xontogeny, who was already knowledgeable about the lysins approach and enthusiastic about helping finance the company.
Acinetobacter, now designated by the World Health Organization as the world’s number-one priority pathogen, has all the bells and whistles of drug resistance, including resistance genes acquired from other organisms that switch on or off in response to outside pressures. Acinetobacter plasmids also carry switchable resistance genes. Some strains of the bacteria are thus multi-drug, and others even pan-drug resistant. Because the bug is ubiquitous and lives on about any surface, it is highly communicable and causes hospital-acquired and community-acquired pneumonia, blood infections (sepsis), and wound infections.
For the company, the emergence of drug resistance in Acinetobacter has real business relevance in the dimensions of its potential global market. Bioharmony would need a world-scale commercial arm to serve that market on its own. Despite the crowd of cold shoulders antibiotics usually face among the big biopharmas, the company may have found a significant exception in its partner, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). Privately owned BI has traditionally exercised its freedom to address medical needs around the world with relatively less adherence to bean-counter monomania over short-term profits. Such long-term thinking may well pay off here. Far from an orphan condition, Acinetobacter infection would be a high-volume market. The BI partnership helped Bioharmony obtain nondiluted funding to continue translational work with the technology before needing to raise a big Series A. Ghose summarizes the company’s position:
“We have partnered with BI to move one of our systemic indications forward. Other companies are also interested. We have a very novel compound. It has a new mechanism of action. The resistance profile is amazing. We don’t even call it an antibiotic. It’s a new lytic enzyme, a biologic for the treatment of microbial infection.”
Three big challenges face Bioharmony: reaching a much greater level of fundraising, searching for a “grand partner,” and blazing the right regulatory trail for a new type of therapeutic entity — lysins. Those often confounding rites of passage will inevitably confront young enterprises throughout the biopharma industry. It is fascinating and instructive, but also sobering, to begin watching this company in the early stretch of such a long road ahead.
Headquarters: New York
$750,000 Seed Round, Xontogeny (lead) and Accelerate New York
Boehringer Ingelheim: collaborating to advance bacteriophage lysin therapeutics for the treatment of multi-drug resistant bacterial infections
January 2019: Bioharmony Therapeutics partners with Boehringer Ingelheim to develop first-in-class therapies for treatment-resistant, hospital-acquired bacterial infections caused by Acinetobacter baumannii.
April 2019: Bioharmony Therapeutics sets up laboratory space in Alenandria LaunchLabs NYC.