Saturday, December 15, 2007

Targanta Therapeutics Part I : Antimicrobial Resistance

Targanta Therapeutics (TARG) filed for an IPO in early October 2007. They are a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of innovative antibiotics for serious infections. Their important therapeutic in development is oritavancin, a novel semi-synthetic glycopeptide antibiotic, for the treatment of serious gram-positive bacterial infections. In order to properly evaluate the current market for serious bacterial infections we first need to brush up on antibiotic resistant microbial pathogens. Let's get started.

Antimicrobial Resistance

In the early 1970s, physicians were finally forced to abandon their belief that, given the vast array of effective antimicrobial agents, virtually all bacterial infections were treatable. Their optimism was shaken by the emergence of resistance to multiple antibiotics among such pathogens as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The evolution of increasingly antimicrobial-resistant bacterial species stems from a multitude of factors that includes the widespread and sometimes inappropriate use of antimicrobials, the extensive use of these agents as growth enhancers in animal feed, and, with the increase in regional and international travel, the relative ease with which antimicrobial-resistant bacteria cross geographic barriers.

Staphylococcus aureus
is perhaps the pathogen of greatest concern. S. aureus is a gram-positive bacterium that colonises the skin and is present in about 25–30% of healthy people. This species has high intrinsic virulence, acquiring antibiotic resistance either by gene mutation or horizontal transfer from another bacterium. S. aureus is the primary cause of lower respiratory tract and surgical site infections, and is also the leading cause of hospital-acquired bacteremia, pneumonia, and cardiovascular infections.

As rapidly as new antibiotics are introduced, staphylococci have developed efficient mechanisms to neutralize them. Resistance to penicillin appeared soon after it was introduced into clinical practice in the 1940s. The effect was initially confined to a small number of hospitalized patients, but resistance spread as use of penicillin increased, first to other hospitals and then into the community. By the late 1960s, >80% of community- and hospital-acquired S. aureus isolates were resistant to penicillin.

The evolution of resistance which first emerges in hospitals and is then spread to the community, is an established pattern that recurs with each new wave of antimicrobial resistance. Methicillin, introduced in 1961, was the first of the semisynthetic penicillinase-resistant penicillins. Its introduction was rapidly followed by reports of methicillin-resistant isolates. Recent information suggests that the evolution and spread of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) seems to be following a wavelike emergence pattern similar to that of penicillin. First detected in hospitals in the 1960s methicillin resistance is now increasingly recognized in the community.

Glycopeptide antibiotics are used as a last resort.
Vancomycin is a glycopeptide antibiotic originally developed by Eli Lilly for penicillin-resistant staphylococci and fastracked by the FDA in 1958. Vancomycin and other subsequently developed glycopeptide antibiotics have never been used as first line treatment for S. aureus infections largely because of the development of methicillin and relevant analogs, and because they must be administered intravenously. However, with steadily rising MRSA cases the use of vancomycin and other glycopeptides as a last resort against these resistant infections has become increasingly widespread. Not suprisingly therefore, in 1996 the first reports of vancomycin intermediate S aureus (VISA) began to come from around the globe. Since then a number of reports of fully resistant (VRSA) strains have been reported. Furthermore, these strains tend to be multidrug resistant (including teicoplanin, another glycopeptide) against a large number of currently available antibiotics, compromising treatment options. At the moment, as there are no formal recommendations regarding treatment, identified strains of VISA or VRSA must be submitted to laboratory screenings to determine a potential antibiotic regimen.

So that brings us up to speed on the state of the perpetual war between Humans and Microbes. Certainly this is a reasonably hot topic right now due to recent news reports of MRSA outbreaks amongst the community. It is important to remember that before the discovery and widespread use of penicillin, bacterial infections were by far the biggest cause of early 20th century mortalities, and microbes like S. Aureus are constantly using the power of darwinian evolution to discover a method to reclaim that title. Furthermore antibiotics have largely been overlooked by the bigger pharmaceutical firms despite volumes of increased molecular understanding of these organisms coming out of academia. This is changing quickly however, so next time we'll look at the other competitors who are developing and marketing novel antibiotics. We'll and cover Targanta's number one candidate Oritavancin and how it measures up to the science. Stay tuned.

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