The AMR Centre (AMRC) has today announced a multi-year co-development agreement with Massachusetts-based clinical stage biopharmaceutical company Microbiotix, Inc. to progress a novel treatment to tackle the bacterium that is responsible for gonorrhoea.

This innovative project targeting multidrug-resistant gonorrhoea is also receiving grant funding (up to $2.86 million initially, with an additional $16 million if certain development milestones are met), from CARB-X, which accelerates global antibacterial innovation by investing in the development of new antibiotics and other life-saving products to combat the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria.

78 million people are infected annually with gonorrhoea, with 40% of isolates resistant to two or more antibiotics. There is currently a limited pipeline for new treatments, with only two new candidate drugs in clinical development.

Last year, two British women were diagnosed with ‘super gonorrhoea’, a strain of the infection that is resistant to the recommended standard of care antibiotics, Azithromycin and Ceftriaxone.

These two antibiotics are used as a dual therapy and the resistance is a major concern as there is already widespread resistance to other antibiotics used to treat gonorrhoea, leaving limited alternatives requiring patient hospitalisation.

The human cost of gonorrhoea is already significant, with untreated cases leading to infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease. The infection is responsible for 225,400 years lived with disability per year globally and can be passed on to children during pregnancy.

The seriousness of this means N. gonorrhoeae has been named by the World Health Organisation as a critical pathogen, and has been declared an ‘urgent public health threat’ by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The collaboration will see AMRC undertake pre-clinical development to drive Microbiotix’s novel mechanism drug, a Trans T ribosome rescue inhibitor, through Lead Optimisation to pre-clinical candidate nomination.

Gonorrhoea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, with the infection spread by unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex, disproportionately affecting women.

Symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from sexual organs, pain when urinating and bleeding between menstrual cycles.

This is the second collaboration between AMRC and Microbiotix, Inc., following a previous co-development deal for the prevention and treatment of ventilator-associated pneumonia caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Dr Peter Jackson, executive director of the AMRC, said: “Over recent years there has been a deeply concerning rise in resistance to the drugs used to treat gonorrhoea – a troubling development given the severe health implications of this infection.

“We are therefore very pleased to have announced this co-development agreement with Microbiotix Inc to progress a novel treatment. We believe that this transatlantic project has the potential to reduce the threat of one of the most concerning strains of antimicrobial resistance.

“We are pleased to be inputting our resources alongside those of CARB-X and Microbiotix, Inc. into this significant program. Our shared resources and expertise will prove crucial in helping to develop the new drugs that will successfully treat this WHO critical pathogen.”