How India-based startups are 'waging war' against superbugs

As antibiotic-resistant bacteria rapidly spread across the globe, India is becoming the epicenter of a war to prevent a world where thousands die of commonplace infections — and several innovative research startups are leading the battle, Bloomberg reports.

"We're on the front line," said Anand Anandkumar, PhD, who co-founded Bengaluru-based startup Bugworks Research India to develop new antibiotics a year after his physician father died of an infection. "We're creating a bullet against organisms that are taking out humanity. Wouldn't it be nice to get a battleground to test it on that's really tough?"

The Indian government has started to act in the fight against superbugs, providing early research funding as well as advice and support to startups like Bugworks.

In 2017, Bugworks became the first company in Asia to receive investment from CARB-X, the U.S. government's main funding source for battling superbugs.

"The science is as good as anywhere else," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, professor at Princeton (N.J.) University and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, based in Washington and New Delhi. "On a per-dollar basis, I think the chance of a new antibiotic discovery is as great or higher in India as anywhere."

Bugworks is developing an antibiotic that simultaneously attacks bacteria in two ways as opposed to the single-target approach of traditional drugs, making it more difficult for the bug to develop resistance. Bugworks' drug also evades the bacteria's defenses, allowing more time for the drug to kill the infection.

The compound has demonstrated effectiveness against lung, blood and urinary tract infections in animals, and should be ready for human trials in about two years, Dr. Anandkumar told Bloomberg.

In the same building, another superbug-fighting startup, Biomoneta, is working on an air purification system that kills bacteria in hospitals before it can infect patients.

Another nearby startup — GangaGen — is working with bacteria-eating viruses called phages to isolate proteins that can make drugs to kill superbugs. The company developed a drug that targets staph infections and is looking for more drugs that treat other infections with the same method.

"You're probably sitting in the epicenter of the problem," said Janani Venkatraman, PhD, founder of Biomoneta. "But there are also so many people working to solve the problem, and that makes for an extremely exciting and collaborative ecosystem."

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