The startup fighting a top-10 threat to humanity
Antibiotics are becoming less effective. MetalloBio has a solution.
You might well have heard about the mounting problem of antibiotics becoming less effective over time. It could have a serious impact on both global public health, and the economy. Today’s startup has developed new tech that could be a solution… while keeping medical equipment safe and clean, too. Scroll down to read all about MetalloBio.
As usual, paying PreSeed Now members get the full story, including the startup’s investment plans, and insights into why although investing into antimicrobial resistance tech can be particularly risky, the situation in improving. By the way, Tuesday’s edition will include details of an additional startup, just for paying members.
I’d just like to give a quick shout out to ConceptionX, which has partnered with machine learning VC firm XTX Ventures. XTX will fund 6-12 companies from each the next three ConceptionX cohorts, with a typical cheque size of £100,000.
🎧 Worth a listen
Propelia runs an interesting podcast series called FounderTech Decoded, and in the 2 September episode, you can drop in on an honest conversation between founders currently navigating the pre-seed venture ecosystem. They cover ‘founder-market fit’, pitch decks, the problems with investor feedback, and more.
MetalloBio is fighting a top-10 threat to humanity
As amazing as antibiotics are for the world, they’re not much use if they no longer make us better due to pathogens building up resistance to them.
And this is a serious issue. The World Health Organization has ranked antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. A 2019 UN report predicted AMR could cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050, up from 1.2 million in 2019. Beyond the human tragedy involved, this has been predicted to cost £66 trillion in lost productivity to the global economy.
Worryingly, we’re not close to a solution. The WHO wrote late last year:
The clinical pipeline of new antimicrobials is dry. In 2019 WHO identified 32 antibiotics in clinical development that address the WHO list of priority pathogens, of which only six were classified as innovative. Furthermore, a lack of access to quality antimicrobials remains a major issue. Antibiotic shortages are affecting countries of all levels of development and especially in healthcare systems.
MetalloBio is a University of Sheffield spinout looking to solve the problem. They’ve developed a novel antimicrobial compound that co-founder and CEO Kirsty Smitten says “represents a new antimicrobial class. It’s broad spectrum and can target all World Health Organization and CDC priority pathogens.”
While the startup is understandably keeping the specifics of what’s new here close to its chest, Smitten says it exploits “a new chemical space that's different from anything in the clinical pipeline” and should be better at avoiding problems with resistance faced by similar antibiotics.
“Typically, antibiotics are based on natural products; they're organic compounds. And new structures that are in the pipeline [from other companies] are also based on these pre-existing classes of antibiotics.”
Smitten says antibiotics based on organic structures “mean resistance is more likely to emerge than with our compounds. What we've done structurally is utilise inorganic chemistry. So it's a completely different chemistry to what's currently available. And that's what allowed us to make compounds that current resistance mechanisms wouldn't be applicable to.”
Nice coat you’ve got there
As you’d expect, bringing new drugs to market based on MetalloBio’s compounds isn’t an overnight process. So while they work towards this in the coming years, the startup has found another use for the technology that it can start selling much sooner - antibacterial coatings for medical devices.
Smitten explains that materials like silver, zinc, and copper are currently used for such coatings, but they can leach into the body causing toxic effects. MetalloBio wants to address demand for non-toxic alternatives with a product that is purportedly 15 times more effective than others tackling the problem.
“How it works is you have a polymer and you add an additive into it, and that additive has the antimicrobial efficacy. The additives have to be added at 15% loading level. So there's 85% polymer and 15% of the additive. We load at a 1% loading level. So there's 99% polymer, 1% compound, and that's because we've got a much higher activity, so it's 15 times more active than the current competitors.
And Smitten says Metallobio’s coating tackles a wider range of bacteria than the competition.
“We’re broad spectrum whereas a lot of coatings currently aren't. So coatings will typically target gram-positive bacteria, so things like staph, MRSA, those types of things, whereas we can target gram-positive and gram-negatives, so we've got a broader activity profile.”
The market for these coatings is huge, Smitten says. Coating devices prevents further medical treatment and means devices can be reused rather than replaced.
“There are global multi-billion dollar markets for all our applications,” says Smitten. “An example would be catheter coatings. Patients get catheter-associated urinary tract infections because bacteria build up on their catheter. And so what we would do is coat that to prevent the bacteria building up. Another example is in orthopaedics… joint replacements, prosthetics, joint pins as well.”
The making of MetalloBio
Smitten founded MetalloBio after completing a PhD in chemistry and biology at the University of Sheffield. The PhD involved creating the antimicrobial compounds that form the basis of the startup’s IP.
“I did the ICURe programme with Innovate UK and had around 150 meetings with potential partners, customers, investors, and funding bodies. And from that, we had a really positive experience. There was a lot of interest in the technology, not just for the systemic drug, but also for the coatings.”
From there, MetalloBio was spun out in March 2021 with Jim Thomas, a professor of bioinorganic chemistry at the University of Sheffield, as co-founder. The company is currently made up of two full-time and three part-time staff.
Smitten is eyeing phase-two clinical trials for the antibiotic drug in 2027, following animal trials, so it can enter clinical use around 2031. Rather than bring a drug into production itself, MetalloBio would partner with a big pharmaceutical company.
“We’ve been having some discussions with four the large pharma that indicate they would possibly come in at phase one instead of phase two [trial stage] because of the novelty of the compounds.”
Meanwhile, Smitten says the coating product is already seeing promising commercial traction.
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