Hackensack Meridian Health Invests in Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, Aiming to Kill ‘Superbugs’ as Part of Bear’s Den Innovation Program

December 4, 2019

Hackensack Meridian Health has invested in the clinical-stage biotechnology company Adaptive Phage Therapeutics (APT), as part of the health network’s successful innovation program, the Bear’s Den.

APT is taking aim at the toughest multi-drug resistant “superbugs” using precision-targeted, genomically-screened, and highly purified viruses known as bacteriophages, or “phages.”

The investment is the third external company that has been funded by Hackensack Meridian Health.

“The rise of multi-drug resistant (MDR) pathogenic bacteria is a growing challenge for all health care organizations treating all kinds of different infections,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, CEO, Hackensack Meridian Health. “The Bear’s Den program has led to investment in a key area affecting the future of medicine worldwide.”

“As bacteria continue to evolve, an approach that can adapt, such as phage therapy offered by APT has become the most promising alternative to dealing with the mounting crisis of antibiotic resistance,” said Greg Merril, chief executive officer and co-founder of APT. “The high level of interest from strategic and financial investors in support of our expanding clinical pipeline validates the potential phage therapy holds for patients.”

In response to urgent requests from physicians caring for patients with severe infections due to multi-drug resistant pathogens, APT has provided PhageBank therapy to more than 20 patients under compassionate use.

The “post-antibiotic era” is already here, CDC Director Robert Redfield wrote recently, as part of the agency’s most recent report on the subject. Some 2.8 million people are infected annually – and more than 35,000 die every year, the agency said.

In 2017, APT acquired the world-wide exclusive commercial rights to PhageBank and related technologies, including an innovative high throughput phage susceptibility test, known as the HRQT companion diagnostic, from the U.S. Navy. Phages are viruses that have co-evolved with bacteria, and are the most prolific natural killers of bacteria on earth – including ‘superbugs’ that have become resistant to all known antibiotic drugs. PhageBank is a broad-spectrum collection of phages that can be matched, on a patient-specific basis, to a targeted pathogen. APT is advancing the technology through innovation in bioinformatics, rapid phage-bacteria matching and phage purification methods that could result in an approach capable of providing a precision-matched therapy instantly upon the diagnosis of a drug-resistant pathogen. Over time, PhageBank has been shown to increase in spectrum of coverage, adapting to the resistance that is common with bacterial evolution.

Hackensack Meridian Health has also been part of key research in the fight against the stubborn germs. David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president, of the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), said scientists working together is key to tackling the problem.

“At the Center for Discovery and Innovation, we have been highly engaged in creating novel solutions to prevent and overcome deadly multidrug resistant infections,” said Dr. Perlin. “As we see in reports from the CDC and in headlines like the recent New York Times article, this is a burgeoning global threat. We welcome the investment and collaboration with partners such as APT, who are working alongside us to combat it.”

Launched in 2017, Bear’s Den features a panel of experts, including Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett, leading physicians, key network executives, venture capitalists, and patent attorneys, who gather regularly to vet proposals from entrepreneurs. The health network’s novel incubator has vetted many products and strategies to streamline care delivery, reduce infections, lower hospital readmissions and help patients partner in their care with physicians.