CHICAGO: Pfizer on Wednesday (Apr 28) said it has acquired privately-held Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a new treatment for drug-resistant "superbug" fungal infections in patients with compromised immune systems.
If approved, Amplyx's lead drug fosmanogepix would be the first new class of antifungal treatments in 20 years. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Fungi, like bacteria, can develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.
Drug-resistant fungi are a growing problem for hospitalized patients with weak immune systems. Currently, there are only three classes of antifungal treatments for such patients, and resistance to these drugs is growing.
While Pfizer has been in the news in recent months for its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech SE, the New York-based drugmaker has quietly been building its portfolio of treatments to combat the slower-moving threat of drug-resistant superbugs, which are on track to kill 10 million people a year by 2050.
The pipeline for such drugs has been drying up due to the high cost of research and low profit margins. But pathogens are continuing to develop resistance to existing treatments, raising the specter of untreatable infections that could spread rapidly.
"COVID-19 has shown the world what untreated infectious diseases look like," Pol Vandenbroucke, chief medical officer of Pfizer's hospital business unit, said in a phone interview.
Last July, Pfizer contributed US$100 million to a US$1 billion Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Action Fund to bolster struggling makers of new antimicrobial agents and sustain a pipeline for new treatments. The group aims to bring two to four new antibiotics to patients by 2030.
Last October, Pfizer closed a deal with Arixa Pharmaceuticals, a company making a next-generation oral antibiotic that, if approved, would be one of the first new drugs of its kind in 35 years.
Public health officials have urged programs to conserve the use of these treatments for only when absolutely necessary in order to help prevent the emergence of drug-resistant bugs.
But these conservation strategies offer little incentive for drug companies to invest without hope of recouping those costs.
Kevin Outterson of Boston University runs Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X), a global program focused on supporting developers of promising new antibiotics, diagnostics, and vaccines that tackle the threat of untreatable bacterial infections.
He compared the difficult antibiotics business model with that of vaccines.
"With vaccines, you want to stick it in as many arms as possible. With a new antibiotic, you kind of want to do the opposite, which is why it's hard to make a buck," he said.
Outterson views the latest industry investments as last-ditch efforts to buy time for small companies to stay in business until countries adopt more sustainable payment models.
In the United States, the bi-partisan PASTEUR Act aims to change the way the government pays for antimicrobial treatments, pricing them based on their value to public health rather than units sold.
In the UK, Pfizer is part of a new subscription payment model that pays drug companies upfront for access to medicines based on their usefulness.
Outterson likens such schemes to a fire extinguisher, something you buy and hope you never need.
Pfizer's acquisition of San Diego-based Amplyx follows an initial investment in December 2019 as part of a Series C financing. According to PitchBook, the company was valued at US$189 million after its latest funding round in 2020.