In an already alarming world, the words of Dr Bill Love spell out a warning of an Infection Apocalypse.
“Bacterial strains have now emerged with resistance to even our most potent and last-resort antibiotics. If we do not urgently produce a stream of new antibiotics and/or develop new alternative drugs, we could be living in a transition period which leads us back to the pre-antibiotic era, where the simplest of cuts could lead to a deadly infection and the safe delivery of all hospital surgeries is lost and where survival becomes a lottery,” he says.
“The challenge is that too few new antibiotics, or indeed new alternatives to antibiotics, are being developed and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains – the so-called Superbugs – is increasing.”
Dr Love, 54, who founded Destiny Pharma, a clinical development stage pharmaceutical company based at the Sussex Innovation Centre on the University of Sussex site at Falmer, knows what he’s talking about. He has devoted 20 years to researching the production of alternative drugs to fight infection and is an acknowledged world expert.
In November, he was appointed to the UK government’s Expert Advisory Panel to support the work of the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund, advising how best to spend £50 million in the next five years tackling drug-resistant infections. It is also seeking ways to fund a further £2 billion for the same cause.
Destiny Pharma was set up in 1997 and has already attracted millions in funding for vital research into novel antimicrobials, which bring new approaches to killing bacteria. The emerging new drugs represent the next generation with the potential to address the rise of antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases – and governments across the world are at last starting to fund research and provide market incentives.
“Action is being taken,” says Dr Love. “We are developing new drug platforms to create the drugs that not only treat these types of infection, but also help to prevent them occurring in the first place.”
Dr Bill Love trained as an Applied Biologist and spent a year carrying out research in a leading hospital R&D lab, before pursuing a PhD in Drug Targeting at the Welsh School of Pharmacy.
He established an academic research group in the rheumatology department at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, before joining Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis) to help develop a wide range of medicine, including drugs, to combat blindness. As a result of joining the pharma industry, he became interested in the business side of the drug industry and began studying towards an MBA at the University of Brighton Business School.
Dr Love founded Destiny Pharma in 1997 because he “wanted to pursue my own ideas.”
Drug development is a lengthy process. It can take more than 15 years from “sketches and ideas in our heads” to a medicine reaching the market and around a billion pounds’ worth of investment, says Dr Love. If Destiny’s latest drugs are approved for market, they could be in use by the early 2020s, he says.
Dr Love is married to a nursing sister working in intensive care. They have three children, aged 23, 21 and 16 – whose talents lie on the sports field, rather the medical profession.
The need is urgent. In a blog last summer, Dr Love wrote: “At their peak in 2003/2004, hospital MRSA blood infections were reported in England at 7,700 per year, causing public outcry and creating such political pressure that MRSA infection figures were reported monthly, directly to the Prime Minister. This prioritisation led to the establishment of an MRSA infection prevention strategy which involved screening all hospital admissions for MRSA by nasal swab.
“Patients who were carriers received nasal antibiotic as well as an antiseptic body wash to reduce MRSA carriage. This intervention was introduced in 2009, proving highly successful and MRSA blood infection (the mandated, reportable MRSA infection) was seen to reduce year on year until 2014/2015.
“However, in a cost reduction measure, screening was limited to higher risk patients and today we have the first evidence of a rise again in MRSA infection as a result of the change in strategy. This rise could very well be expected to continue, as MRSA infections caused in ‘lower risk’ patients are no longer prevented.”
Dr Love also highlights the continued rise of infections caused by a more common bacteria, MSSA. He questions why these infections have been allowed to continue to rise year on year, now topping 10,000 in the last year, when the MRSA prevention strategy had been proved so effective. “It must make sense to screen and treat MSSA as well as MRSA,” he says.
Dr Love pulls no punches: “There is really nothing stopping Public Health England, the Department of Health or the NHS from introducing a scheme for the treatment of MSSA carriage in patients to prevent these infections, other than the political will to do so. Technically, the excellent results seen for MRSA could be reproduced for MSSA.
“If we have a preventative intervention which works, why on earth are we not using it?”
Destiny Pharma is working on new drugs to treat infections caused by both MRSA and MSSA. Its lead, clinical stage drug exeporfinium chloride has the potential to break through the drug-resistance barrier and be used in a widespread manner to help prevent infections.
Exeporinium chloride caught the eye of the US government expert group, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases which funded the drug’s clinical assessment in a successful clinical trial recently conducted in the USA.
Destiny Pharma has also received recognition from the US government’s Food and Drug Administration, which has awarded exeporfinium chloride “Qualifying Infection Disease Product” status for the prevention of post-surgical staphylococcal infection. This status enables the potential fast-track of the drug through the next clinical development stages in the USA and adds five years of marketing exclusivity.
Dr Love comments: “The US government funding emphasises the need for this drug. It is a recognition of the value of what we are doing.”
So, can Dr Love and his fellow scientists halt the Apocalypse? “I am heartened by the fact that the World Health Organisation, G20 and the United Nations have this subject on their agenda,” he says. “It comes down to resources and funding and it might take a further catastrophe to spur people into action. I do hope not, I am an optimist at heart.”