Company in the spotlight: AGILeBiotics B.V.

14 December 2017

NADP supports R&D collaborations. To give further insights in companies active in this area, we have initiated the column“Company in the spotlight” issue. In this first edition, we speak with Dr. Andreas Bastian, the CEO of AGILeBiotics B.V. This antimicrobial developing company was founded earlier this year and is a perfect candidate to kick-off this topic!

AGILeBiotics is a spin off from the University of Groningen. Why did you decide to start this new company?

AGILeBiotics was founded in March 2017 and is located in the Innolab Chemie Groningen, which offers state of the art lab facilities for rent. Furthermore, AGILeBiotics is located in the heart of the Groningen Zernike Campus which enables quick communication with various contract research organizations, such as Syncom and Integrex Research, and academic groups at the University of Groningen. In other words, Groningen has a great infrastructure for spin-off companies facilitating collaboration with private profit organizations and non-profit institutions. Moreover, one can find a reasonable number of venture capital firms in order to raise a pre-seed investment what might be required to launch a start-up company. Summarized, Groningen has the right environment for companies like AGILeBiotics.

During the last years we have developed a novel technology, named OxaSelect, which gives quick and lucrative access to novel antibiotic candidates based on natural products. After establishing this drug development platform in 2011/2012, OxaSelect was first protected by a patent application in 2013. Fortunately, during the past few years it became very likely that the patent will finally be granted. Then, after we had established a business case which was convincing to regional investors, we decided to launch AGILeBiotics.

I like to emphasize, that this technology was developed at the University of Groningen in the groups of Prof. Adriaan J. Minnaard and Prof. Andreas Herrmann. Both academic groups are still supporting our activities at AGILeBiotics.

Can you describe what AGILeBiotics is working on?

AGILeBiotics is focusing on the development of novel antibiotics for the treatment of patients in intensive care, infected by multidrug-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotic development still takes 10 to 15 years, and most new antibiotic candidates fail in clinical trials due to toxicity and safety reasons. Reviving an existing class of antibiotics is still the most efficient and promising strategy to bring novel antibiotics to the market. This approach evades the discovery stage and increases significantly the success rate during clinical trials. And this is where AGILeBiotics steps in: Our technology OxaSelect accelerates the optimization of existing antibiotics, which are based on structurally complex natural products. We use existing antibiotics that lost their effectiveness against infections due to bacterial resistance, to develop novel antibiotics against life-threatening multidrug resistant infections.

What are the ambitions of the company?

AGILeBiotics’ ambition is to contribute to the fight against bacterial resistance by bringing new therapeutic solutions to patients infected by multidrug resistant bacteria. Our vision is to accelerate the development of novel antibiotics by employing our technology OxaSelect on existing drugs, which are based on natural products, giving them a second life cycle on the antibiotic market.

And what is your personal motivation to step into this company?

During my PhD studies (2008-2012), I had the pleasure to contribute to the invention which is the foundation of our company. Hence, after my Rubicon(NWO)-supported postdoc period in the US focusing on early-stage antibiotic development, I returned to Groningen working as a Veni(NWO)-Research fellow in the group of Prof. Adriaan J. Minnaard, who is co-inventor of OxaSelect and advisor for AGILeBiotics. While working on novel strategies to overcome bacterial resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics, I was still interest in the application of OxaSelect in the development of novel antibiotics. On top, I was getting more interested in the business and financial aspects of pharma companies. At this point, stepping out of the academic environment was a logical step for me, which I do not regret. In fact, as a CEO of a spin-off company you have the luxury to face challenges and improve your knowledge and skills in different areas on a daily basis. Sure, it is very demanding, but also very exciting.

As a start-up company, you have to collaborate with partners to get the new antimicrobials closer to the clinical stage. What kind of collaborations are you looking for in the upcoming 2 years?

AGILeBiotics has a very skilled team covering the essential knowledge and experience in early-stage drug development processes, such as hit identification and hit-to-lead optimizations. However, AGILeBiotics relies also on support from academic groups with experience in late-stage antibiotics development and the use of antibiotics in the clinics. In this regard, we take part in the health-i-program (INTERREG) allowing us to work together with the University Medical Center Groningen, Hospital of Oldenburg (Germany) and the University Hospital of Muenster (Germany). In addition, we have a close collaboration with our co-founder Prof. Andreas Herrmann, who is co-inventor of our technology OxaSelect as well and supports actively the pre-clinical development of our antibiotic candidates. We also have a collaboration with Assist. Prof. Marc Boudreau at the University of New Hampshire, where our candidates are being evaluated in combination with other antibiotics currently used in the clinics.

In order to bring our drug candidates into the clinical stages, AGILeBiotics is additionally using the service provided by companies experience in advanced pre-clinical development. Hence, a reasonable part of our pre-clinical drug development (starting from in vivo experiments) is completely outsourced to contract research organizations.

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