NEW YORK (360Dx) – The UK's AMR Centre has partnered with the Skolkovo Foundation in Russia to accelerate the development of new tests and therapies for antimicrobial resistance, the organizations announced this week.
As part of the agreement, Russian companies supported by Skolkovo will gain access to the AMRC's R&D expertise, international connections, and funding mechanisms.
Established last year, the AMRC is a private-public initiative aimed at supporting new antibiotics and tests by offering partners access to translational R&D resources. Since commencing operations in July, it has been keen to reach out to partners, especially in the so-called BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Executive Director Pete Jackson said that the AMRC's new agreement with the Skolkovo Foundation is in this vein.
"The whole AMR agenda is categorized by international collaboration," Jackson said. He noted that the AMRC is an alliance partner of a CARB-X, a $400 million global initiative backed by the US government and the Wellcome Trust. The center has also been active in China recently trying to forge new relationships. "It's absolutely part of a global initiative to build networks and find best solutions wherever they happen to be found," he said.
According to Jackson, the AMRC works mainly with smaller or virtual companies that lack in-house capabilities. "We are building the equivalent of a pharma company's preclinical development organization that these companies can use," he said. "We have chemists, microbiologists, and in vivo capabilities, and project management teams to put regulatory submissions together and to lead clinical trials."
While therapy is the AMRC's initial focus, it is evaluating potential investments in companies developing diagnostics.
"We are very strongly looking at what diagnostics opportunities we would like to support," said Jackson. "Once we get into it, the [diagnostics] will be more laboratory based, versus device based. … We are looking at methods to identify not only individual microbe types but also resistant variants, so we can have tailored antibiotics to target the exact pathogen the patient is suffering from."
The Review of Antimicrobial Resistance, a 2016 report commissioned by the UK government, outlines various needs for diagnostics in the area of AMR, and is guiding the AMRC's strategy on that front, Jackson said.
"The holy grail for us will be a test that can be performed on body fluids from patients that will not only identify the pathogens, but will also identify which particular drug-resistant strain they have, if any," Jackson said. "That will allow us to use exactly the right antibiotic to knock out the pathogen."
The AMRC is now counting on partnerships with entities like the Skolkovo Foundation to create those kinds of tests with its help.
"I think the Skolkovo folks recognize the potential of having all the different disciplines [that the AMCR offers] under one roof," said Jackson. "They are much further ahead on the IT tech side of their businesses, so being able to leverage healthcare expertise alongside that is a great strategic move, I think," he said.
Established in 2010, the Skolkovo Foundation oversees the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a technopark located outside Moscow that hosts more than a thousand technology companies and startups. In 2013, the Russian government allocated RUB 3.5 billion ($60 million) to the foundation to support technology and entrepreneurship in the areas of energy efficiency, computer technologies, biomedicine, nuclear technologies, and space technologies through 2020.
According to Kirill Kaem, senior vice president at the foundation, the innovation center is currently home to 430 biomedical startups. At the same time, just a handful are engaged in developing new antibiotics and diagnostics though Skolkovo would like to have more, he said.
The main Skolkovo-backed firm working on diagnostics in the area of AMR is Knomics, a microbiome research company developing tests and therapies based on human microbes. Knomics is currently engaged in a number of projects, one of which is developing new antibiotic therapies that do not disrupt beneficial bacteria. That work includes the metagenomic sequencing of patient's gut microbiomes before and after taking therapy.
Knomics also helped to develop Atlas Biomed's Atlas Microbiome Test, which relies on 16S RNA sequencing to profile a customer's gut microbiome and make recommendations for improving gut health based on that analysis. London-based Atlas currently charges £125 for the CE-marked assay.
In addition to Knomics, Kaem said that five Skolkovo-backed companies are developing therapies related to AMR. These include Gero, which is developing antibacterial drugs for Staphylococcus aureus, including resistant forms; Viridias, which is developing microalgae-based antibiotics for resistant S. aureus; MT Medicals and Infectex, both of which are developing new drugs for resistant strains of tuberculosis; and Superbug Solutions, which is developing a new class of antimicrobial drugs.
Kaem said that Skolkovo's startups should benefit from collaborating with the AMR Centre.
"This partnership is an opportunity for innovative Russian companies to become a part of international research programs," he said, noting it will allow them to "find investment, conduct preclinical and clinical trials, and fight the global problem of antimicrobial resistance."
Jackson said that while Skolkovo has fostered a thriving business startup culture in Russia, there are "a lot of interesting, exciting companies without direct access to some of the networks we can provide." Going forward, Skolkovo will introduce Russian companies to the AMRC as potential projects the center can fund.
"We don't just fund UK companies," Jackson stressed. "We will also make available our scientific advisory network and wider network of contacts in the UK to offer advice to those smaller companies, to understand that international framework, and mechanisms for funding," he said.
Jackson added that he hopes the new agreement with Skolkovo will "stimulate some multisector approaches for tackling AMR," and noted that any new tests or therapies that come out of the partnership will be made available for the global market, not just the Russian Federation.
"The Skolkovo's outlook is international," said Jackson. "We want to help Russian [small and medium-sized enterprises] partner with organizations around the world so we can bring products to the international market."