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Phico Therapeutics strengthens team as it steps up antibiotic resistance fight

Dr Heather Fairhead, CEO and founder of Phico Therapeutics, in the lab. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Heather Fairhead, CEO and founder of Phico Therapeutics, in the lab. Picture: Keith Heppell

Bourn-based biotechnology company Phico Therapeutics has strengthened its team and board as it progresses its solution to the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

The company is on the cusp of creating a new generation of antibiotics.

Resistance to existing drugs is regarded as “one of the biggest threats to global health” by the World Health Organisation. It is killing around 700,000 a year already, with predictions that the number could rise to 10 million by 2050 unless action is taken.

Phico’s lead product, SASPject PT3.8, which is in pre-clinical development, has been developed for the intravenous treatment of hospital infections caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

It utilises unique antibacterial small acid-soluble spore proteins (SASPs) to target and deactivate bacterial DNA, with the aid of nano-delivery vehicles. It works by injecting a gene that encodes SASP directly into the targeted bacteria.

This injected gene produces SASPS, which bind to the bacterial DNA and effectively turn it off so the bacterial cell cannot metabolise or reproduce, and can then be removed from the body by the immine system.

Now Phico, which expanded into the Bertarelli Building in July 2017, has appointed Andrew Armour as financial director and Professor Mark Wilcox and David Beadle as non-executive directors to support the product through clinical trials - expected to begin in late 2020 - and finance its planned clinical-grade manufacturing facility, which is likely to be created in the Cambridge area, the company told the Cambridge Independent this week.

Dr Heather Fairhead, CEO at Phico, said: “The collective experience that Mark, David and Andrew have in clinical and business development will help us to deliver upon our strategy of developing an antibacterial therapy to help overcome the global problem of antimicrobial resistance. I am thrilled to welcome them to the team.”

Andrew Armour, FD at Phico Therapeutics (6577960)
Andrew Armour, FD at Phico Therapeutics (6577960)

Chartered accountant Andrew Armour works with The FD Centre, which helps provides part-time financial directors for small companies. He joins Phico on a part-time basis, bringing experience in the healthcare industry, particularly in financial restructuring, equity fundraising and corporate acquisitions and disposals. In previous positions with Grant Thornton and Deloitte, he worked on restructuring and corporate finance, before becoming the FD of Colchester Hospital. He will support Phico in its upcoming fundraising activities and partnering negotiations.

He said: “I look forward to working with Phico at this time to support with fundraising for its planned clinical-grade manufacturing facility, which will deliver not only Phico's drugs for clinical trials but also generate a revenue stream by providing a manufacturing service to other companies.”

David Beadle, non-executive director at Phico Therapeutics (6577963)
David Beadle, non-executive director at Phico Therapeutics (6577963)

David Beadle has clocked up 25 years’ experience in healthcare and finance. He worked in marketing and strategic development at Schwarz Pharma and Schering AG before moving into investment banking, leading healthcare equity research teams globally.

He said: “The company is uniquely placed to capitalise on the potential of an underdeveloped area of antimicrobial resistance with its novel technology and I am delighted to be working with their team to aid Phico’s business development.”

Prof Wilcox who has held several positions at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, is a consultant microbiologist and head of research and development in microbiology, and professor of medical microbiology at the University of Leeds.

He advises Public Health England and NHS England on diagnosis, prevention and development of infection prevention and control products and new antimicrobial agents to target healthcare associated infections.

He previously represented the Wellcome Trust as its expert when it supported Phico.

Prof Mark Wilcox, non-executive director at Phico Therapeutics (6577966)
Prof Mark Wilcox, non-executive director at Phico Therapeutics (6577966)

“It’s exciting to see the potential of the SASPject platform,” he said. “This novel approach could provide a number of significant advantages over traditional antibiotics, and I am looking forward to supporting its clinical development.”

SASPject PT3.8 is expected to be used to treat patients with serious Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections, which have a high mortality rate.

P. aeruginosa causes a range of infections, typically seen in hospitals, which are very hard to treat because the bacteria has in-built antibiotic resistance mechanisms, including an impermeable cell membrane and efflux pumps, which remove antibiotics entering the cell. As trials progress, the drug could also be used to treat those with suspected cases, before they are confirmed.

In August, innovation agency Innovate UK awarded £1.4million to support the manufacturing development of the product, being undertaken in partnership with The Clinical Trial Company and GE Healthcare.

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