21st October 2022
BACTOBIO AWARDED PRESTIGIOUS AND HIGHLY COMPETITIVE INNOVATE UK SMART GRANT
Bactobio today announced that it had been awarded a prestigious Smart grant from Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency. The £342,000 award titled “Novel antifungal discovery from mining unexplored microbes” is Bactobio’s first antifungal-focused funding and fifth Innovate UK success. The award brings the company’s total non-dilutive funding to more than £1.5 million.
The Smart grant programme
Smart is Innovate UK’s flagship innovation funding programme. In this round of the competition, Innovate UK is investing up to £25 million in game-changing, world-leading disruptive ideas with fast commercialisation and potential economic return for the UK economy.
Previous successes range across markets and stages, including Magic Pony Technology, a software company developing machine learning approaches for visual processing acquired by Twitter, Neural Alpha Ltd, a sustainable fintech consultancy building a biodiversity risk and impact toolkit in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, and Hoxton Farms, a producer of alternative meat products developing model-driven cell culture media for optimised production of cultivated fat, recently raising a $22 million series A round.
Antifungal resistance: The silent crisis
Fungal infections are a growing and underestimated health threat which historically has had poor surveillance and recognition. Estimates now suggest that over 150 million people are affected by severe fungal diseases each year, with elderly and immunocompromised patients, particularly at risk. Infections cause ~1.7 million deaths globally, overtaking tuberculosis (1.5 million) and malaria (~600k ).
Today’s antifungal treatments are limited to three major chemical classes: azoles, echinocandins, and polyenes. These drugs are typically effective against mild infections but come with intensive treatment regimens and severe side effects, including liver toxicity, heart inflammation and pre-cancerous lesions. Severe infections have lower rates of treatment success, in part due to intrinsic drug resistance.
Alarmingly, acquired resistance to antifungal drugs is fast becoming a concern worldwide, with multiple variants of fungal pathogens emerging. Azole treatments are susceptible to spreading resistance due to long-term therapeutic applications and widespread environmental exposures, including in crop protection and fish farming. The discovery of novel drugs will be a crucial part of the multi-faceted approach required to ensure these infections remain treatable.
Aspergillus Fumigatus: The ubiquitous mould
Aspergillus fumigatus is a WHO-recognised priority fungal pathogen responsible for a spectrum of respiratory infections. Worldwide, the pathogen affects over 10 million individuals, with annual incidence rates growing.
Invasive aspergillosis is a severe healthcare-associated infection caused by A. fumigatus, with drug resistance rates increasing and mortality rates of up to 95%. A new treatment against this infection alone would significantly benefit the 300,000 patients affected annually.
Mining unexplored microbes
In the 18-month project, our team will expand and screen our library of unique microbial species to find novel antifungal compounds against A. fumigatus.
Bactobio’s Head of Business Development and application lead, Helena Francis, said: “Two of the three major drug classes used to fight Aspergillus infections today come from microbes. But screening of existing culture collections has long been exhausted, and resistance is spreading. This project opens up an important new potential source of drugs for major infections and could eventually lead to the introduction of the first novel class of antifungals in over 20 years.”
"Smart funding will allow us to apply our technology to a pressing area for novel discovery,” says Bactobio’s Chief Scientific Officer, Mark Wilkinson. “Our current platform, which was designed to discover novel antibiotic solutions, has shown success in finding antimicrobial compounds against the most critical bacterial pathogens. This funding allows us to expand our technology into another unmet medical need: the discovery of new antifungal compounds.”