By Grant Ellis, Director, NovaBiotics Ltd
A number of commentators are now saying that as a result of the vaccines, COVID 19 will be akin to flu – something that comes around every year but for most of us nothing more than an inconvenience and only severely affects a small number. Like flu however, it is unlikely that we will ever vaccinate the majority of the world’s population and achieve the ‘herd immunity’ you have been hearing a lot about. We will as well have to keep adapting the vaccines as the virus mutates.
Also like flu, we now know even in a ‘vaccine era’ just how many people can still end up in hospital and needing treatment for severe disease because of COVID 19 which can lead to death or long term illness. Did you know however that most hospitalised COVID 19 patients are being treated for pneumonia, not the virus?
Most people associate pneumonia with bacterial chest infections, but in fact pneumonia is defined as inflammation of the lung tissue caused by any chest infection including viruses, bacteria and even fungi. As such, COVID 19 is yet another, very concerning cause of pneumonia that is evidently ‘here to stay’.
Specifically, COVID 19 can lead to a form of pneumonia referred to as Community Acquired Pneumonia or CAP meaning that the cause of the pneumonia was contracted pre-hospital and in the community.
CAP was already a leading cause of death from infection globally. CAP that is severe enough to require admission to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is associated with a substantial risk of death. As COVID 19 presents us with yet another cause of CAP, one can only predict that CAP will now become an even more significant global issue and cause of morbidity and mortality.
This is how COVID CAP develops – in very simple terms; COVID 19 causes severe inflammation in the lungs and damages the cells and tissue that line the airways meaning the ability of the lungs to take oxygen across this lining into the blood is impaired. The walls of the lungs can thicken and harden because of this damage, making it very hard to breathe.
We all know that antibiotics do not work against viruses, so why has the use of antibiotics increased as a result of the COVID 19 virus? Primary pneumonia caused by COVID 19 and other viruses can make you more prone to contracting bacterial pneumonia and so antibiotics are used to prevent as well as treat the bacterial element of any CAP, even if more than bacteria is involved. Herein lies another issue – antimicrobial resistance, or AMR for short. The more we expose bacteria to antibiotics, the more they ‘fight back’ and become resistant to the very antibiotics developed to treat them. Increased usage over the course of the current pandemic – however vital – has simply exacerbated the situation.
Healthcare professionals now see AMR as the next pandemic and the most urgent global healthcare crisis to address during and beyond the COVID 19 crisis. AMR has been described as the ‘Silent Tsunami’ coming in the wake of COVID 19.
At NovaBiotics we are also leveraging our technology platforms to generate new antimicrobial therapies that not only have the potential to meet the need for safer, more effective antimicrobial treatments, but work against drug and multi-drug resistant bugs and do so in such a way that is ‘future-proofed’ as much as possible with minimal risk of drug resistance developing in the microbes they kill.
These therapy candidates include Nylexa®, which is set to enter phase 3 clinical trials for CAP very shortly. Nylexa® is unique in its dual antimicrobial (antibacterial and antiviral) and anti-inflammatory properties. Put simply, Nylexa® ‘supercharges’ existing antibiotics to the extent that they work again even against drug resistant bacteria, so along with its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, could be a real ‘game changer’ when used alongside standard of care treatment in the fight against CAP.
Because Nylexa’s active ingredient is repurposed and has been used in medicines for other, unrelated conditions for more than 30 years, it can potentially be introduced into clinical practice within a much shorter timescale than new antimicrobial treatments developed from first principle.
NovaBiotics is busy working on those too with earlier stage candidates than Nylexa®. NP432, a peptide antibacterial with direct activity in the lab against the hardest to treat, multi-drug resistant World Health Organisation and Center for Disease Control and Prevention ‘priority’ bacteria, and NP339, an antifungal peptide therapy candidate with lab activity against a range of fungi including drug-resistant variants.
About NovaBiotics Ltd (www.novabiotics.co.uk)
NovaBiotics Ltd is a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on the design and development of first-in-class therapies for difficult-to-treat, medically unmet infectious
diseases caused by bacteria and fungi and respiratory conditions including pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and COVID-19.
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