“Rapid progress towards clinical candidates”

Michel Pairet, Member of the Board of Managing Directors, explains why Boehringer Ingelheim expands its commitment to fighting drug resistant infections with a new joint venture – and what the partnership means for our company and its future. 

The rise of drug-resistant pathogens is a real threat.

Boehringer Ingelheim, Evotec and bioMérieux announced on Thursday, June 30th, they have signed an agreement to form a joint venture to create the next generation of antimicrobials. The company, Aurobac Therapeutics SAS, will bring together the best practices and capabilities of three leaders to develop a new precision medicine approach, combining diagnostics and therapeutics. We talked to Michel Pairet, Member of the Board of Managing Directors, about the background and the significance of the new partnership.

Michel, the G7 recently called the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections (also known as antimicrobial resistance or AMR) a “silent pandemic”. Would you agree?

Michel Pairet: Unfortunately, I do. The rise of drug-resistant pathogens, driven mainly by antimicrobials overuse and misuse and poor infection control, threatens our ability to treat common infections. Especially alarming is the rapid advance of multi- and pan-resistant bacteria - also known as “superbugs” - around the globe that cause infections that are not treatable with existing antimicrobial medicines. This means that having routine surgery such as caesarean sections or hip replacements may become life threatening, and complications from common diseases such as diabetes and injuries or cuts will become harder to manage. And just too many people are unaware of how serious the situation is.

AMR already kills about 1.27 million people globally every year and it has been estimated that by 2050, as much as  10 million worldwide deaths could result from AMR, making it potentially deadlier than cancer.

"Huge societal costs of AMR"

And this looming pandemic is aggravated by a lack of innovation? 

While science has come up with many innovative new treatment approaches, R&D activities in the antibiotics field declined over the past 20 years. The reason being that despite the dire outlook and the already huge societal costs of AMR, there is no viable market model for new antibiotics and therefore little funding available to support clinical research. As a result, even successful, much needed antibiotics in the early stages of development may never get over the “valley of death” and make it to late-stage clinical development to reach patients.

Boehringer Ingelheim supports the AMR Action Fund.

This is very alarming. What can Boehringer Ingelheim do?

Boehringer Ingelheim aspires to transform patients’ lives for generations. This means that besides researching and developing therapies for the medical challenges of today we take as an independent and family-owned company the freedom to look ahead to the health challenges of the future and AMR is very clearly one of them.

We bring lots of expertise and scientific leadership in the discovery and development of new antimicrobial therapies like immune modulation, antibody development and vaccine development to the table. We have BI BioXcellence as the largest CDMO for biologics in house and we have extensive experience in the clinical development of new therapeutic approaches.

This debate is anything but new. Why do we care now? 

We have explored the area of new antimicrobial therapy approaches already for a long time with the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF), which invested in the first AMR infection startup as early as 2017, and Research Beyond Borders (RBB). Our engagement includes a € 50-million investment by Boehringer Ingelheim and another € 50 million from the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation in the AMR Action Fund, a broad alliance of industrial and non-industrial stakeholders that has raised nearly a billion USD, aiming to bring 2-4 new antibiotics to patients by the end of this decade by investing in highly innovative biotech companies specialized on AMR infections.

Boehringer Ingelheim, Evotec and bioMerieux are forming a joint venture to create the next generation of antibiotics. What can you tell us about the new company named “Aurobac Therapeutics SAS”?

As mentioned, we have been committed to this field already for quite some time and have been looking for an opportunity to further accelerate innovation in the AMR space. Aurobac will work to shift the strategy related to antibiotic treatment regimens, which at the moment leans heavily on empirical approaches using broad-spectrum and unfocused medicines. The goal is to turn this into a precision approach, using new highly effective and targeted modalities, combined with rapid and actionable diagnostics to quickly identify pathogens and their resistance patterns.

The joint venture is designed as a highly agile biotech. We will combine the workflow of a startup with the expertise and power of a global, research-driven pharmaceutical company. This will enable Aurobac to complement its and the partners capabilities with inputs from further partners reaching from enabling technologies to molecular assets that can be developed by Aurobac.

Superbugs cause infections that are not treatable with existing antimicrobial medicines.

Who are our partners in Aurobac?

Evotec brings in their experience reaching from discovery of novel therapeutics to early clinical operations. They have built a world-leading platform to tackle infectious diseases. With a more than 200-strong anti-infective discovery team, the company has proven experience on multiple agent classes.

bioMérieux has over 55 years of diagnostics expertise with more than 75% of its research and development budget directed to research on antimicrobial resistance. They are looking for a complete diagnostic solution facilitating antibiotic therapy decision-making, including antibiotic initiation, optimization, and discontinuation.

Boehringer Ingelheim will contribute – among other things – its expertise in antibody development, market access and commercialization. What does our new focus in AMR mean for our company?

Our key therapeutic areas of focus in R&D will remain as they are – Cardio-Metabolic diseases and Retinopathies, Central Nervous System, Immunology & Respiratory, Cancer Research, Cancer Immunology and Immune Modulation. We have made a very conscious decision to set Aurobac up as an external entity jointly with our partners bringing in their complementary expertise. This set-up will enable Aurobac to make rapid progress towards clinical candidates that will inform BI’s potential decision whether this could in future become a new therapeutic area of focus.

Why is the new company located in Lyon?

This is an extremely lucky coincidence not only have we found partners with globally leading experience in the field but all three partners already have major activities in the Lyon area: a major hub of our Animal Health business, bioMérieux’s corporate headquarters as well as an Evotec lab site - this will make the setup of Aurobac much easier.

Michel, you mentioned before that companies have struggled in the past to develop a reliable business model for new antibiotics. Will Aurobac have such a business model?

Our goal is to develop highly effective and targeted approaches that compensate for the costs of R&D. But it is also necessary that all stakeholders are committed to fight superbugs. This includes decision makers and governments who have to create a business-friendly environment for R&D in their countries and regions.