Promising Results Offer Hope in Fight Against Candida auris

BIOtech Now
Andrew Segerman

While health care conversations on Capitol Hill today are largely focused on how to best lower overall and patient out-of-pocket spending, one area of focus that could have tremendous societal and personal implications in the coming years is unfortunately receiving scant attention: the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

This “silent killer” and looming public health threat has severe social and economic consequences that could have a lasting impact on families, individuals, and communities around the world. Each year, AMR claims nearly 700,000 lives across the globe, and that number is expected to grow to 10 million annually by 2050 without corrective actions, according to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

One area of growing concern, recently highlighted in the New York Times, is the rise of Candida auris infections – a deadly, drug-resistant fungus that is infecting vulnerable patients in hospitals and nursing homes worldwide. As the Times explained:

“The germ … preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa.”

To get a better sense of the urgent need for innovation in this space, Forbes highlighted a recent study on this emerging public health threat.

“[The] study reviewed 51 cases of C. auris infections that had occurred in healthcare facilities in New York City from 2016 to 2018. All of the patients already had serious medical conditions prior to getting infected and ranged in age from 21 to 96 years old. Nearly half (45%) of the patients ended up dying within 90 days of being diagnosed with C. auris infections. Nearly all (98%) of the C. auris samples from 50 of the patients were resistant to fluconazole, a commonly used anti-fungal drug. Testing of different objects and rooms revealed C. auris in the environments of 15 of the 20 healthcare facilities.”

But the news isn’t all bad. Thanks to committed researchers, scientists, savvy business leaders, and a committed investment community, biotechnology companies are developing promising products to fight Candida auris and other resistant pathogens.

SCYNEXIS, Inc., an innovative public biotech company delivering innovative therapies for difficult-to-treat and often life-threatening infections, recently announced that they have cured two patients with Candida auris infections in an ongoing open-label Phase 3 study (CARES study). Another private biotech company, Amplyx, also has a novel small-molecule therapy in clinical development to treat today’s deadliest fungal pathogens, including Candida auris.

While exciting progress is being made by the handful of companies developing new treatments, more development is needed to effectively fight the emerging threat of AMR. As the AMR Review points out, venture capital investment into pharma R&D significantly outweighs the amount invested in antimicrobial research and it’s been nearly 20 years since the last completely new class of antifungal drugs were introduced.

Infectious disease products face an uncertain return on investment due to several factors, including the currently low value placed on antibiotic resistance, the slow uptake of new antibacterials to preserve their effectiveness, and a difficult-to-predict market due to developing resistance, yet we as an industry and society must invest in them to ensure and better our future. To encourage continued and increased investment in the AMR space, it is vital that additional incentives are put in place to help create a more reliable  marketplace and encourage private sector engagement. BIO has put forth a number of potential incentives for consideration in a white Paper on Models to Incentivize the Antimicrobial Pipeline.

The fight against infectious diseases like Candida auris is proving to be an uphill battle, but smart policies that promote innovation and an industry committed to advancing next-generation products is our best shot at beating this looming public health threat.

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