Novophage Forming to Combat Antibiotic Resistance with Engineered Viruses

3/5/09

A group of biotech veterans and up-and-comers in the Boston area are forming a startup called Novophage to make engineered viruses that may help combat the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics.

It’s early days for Novophage. The firm has no office or venture backers to speak of, but it has formed an impressive roster of scientific co-founders that includes MIT’s prolific biotech inventor Bob Langer, Boston University bioengineering professor James Collins, and MIT chemical engineering professor Gregory Stephanopoulos. Research related to the firm’s science—led by co-founder Timothy Lu, a student at Harvard Medical School—was due to be published this week in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I got the inside scoop on this company’s strategy from Lu and Collins yesterday.

Novophage’s engineered viruses have shown the potential to be used in combination with traditional antibiotics, offering what could be a new way kill bugs that have developed resistance, Lu says. This combination strategy offers an alternative to developing new stand-alone antibiotics, which have been slow to reach the market the past couple of years. For example, the FDA late last year shot down Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Targanta Therapeutics’ bid to garner approval of an antibiotic called oritavancin for complex skin and skin-related infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another contender, South San Francisco-based Theravance, has also been delayed by regulatory hang-ups.

“We wouldn’t have to worry about antibiotic resistant bacteria if there were a lot of new antibiotics coming out from the pharmaceutical industry,” Lu says. “Our technology provides the ability to extend the useful lifetime of antibiotics and to solve the growing antibiotic-resistance problem.”

Lu and his fellow researchers have engineered bacterial viruses, called bacteriophages or phages, to strike at the natural DNA repair mechanism in bacteria that helps them resist antibiotics. To accomplish this, BU’s Collins explained to me, the phages serve as Trojan … Next Page »

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  • Jennifer

    Ryan,
    I thought it interesting that you used Targanta as an example of a traditional antibiotic company. Funnily enough – it started out as an antibiotic target discovery company called Phagetech! The field has come full circle.