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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Scientists at Microbia, Inc. have defined the network of genes that control the ability of fungal cells to invade and infect, and have demonstrated the potential to block invasion, with a new class of small-molecule antifungal compounds called Anti-Invasins. The study is the first to demonstrate the potential for a new therapeutic approach to treating and preventing fungal infections by targeting the invasion process with small-molecule drugs. Details were presented today at the 15th Congress of the International Society of Human and Animal Mycology (ISHAM) in San Antonio.
"Based on our understanding of the gene networks that control fungal invasion, we have developed novel Anti-Invasin compounds that cripple these serious pathogens," said Angelika Fretzen, senior scientist with the Anti- Invasin Program. "These unique drug candidates, used alone and in combination with existing therapies, have the potential to change physicians' approach to treating and preventing fungal infections."
The team of researchers described the regulation of gene expression in C. albicans that controls the invasion process based on the gene expression profiles for multiple growth conditions that induce filamentous growth and invasion. They altered a pathogenic strain of C. albicans by deleting a single gene, preventing its ability to invade and cause disease in animal models of infection. In addition, the team discovered a novel class of compounds that disable the infection process in both Candida spp. and Aspergillus fumigatus, the two most common and problematic fungal pathogens.
The incidence of fungal infection is growing due to the increasingly intensive and invasive nature of medical procedures and a steadily expanding population of patients rendered immunocompromised by cancer chemotherapy, organ and bone marrow transplantation, and HIV/AIDS. The market for antifungal therapeutics currently exceeds $3 billion. Resistance to existing classes of drugs is on the rise, and since there are limited classes of antifungal drugs available today and a limited number of drugs in development, there is significant need for the development of new approaches. The similarity of fungal and human cells, however, makes development of new drugs a significant challenge.
"Fungal infection represents a major and growing unmet medical need," said Peter Hecht, CEO of Microbia. "With its novel mechanism of action, the Anti- Invasin class has the potential to significantly expand the existing antifungal market, both for treatment and prophylaxis."
Microbia is a privately held biotechnology company using a systems-based approach to making breakthrough drugs and biomanufacturing processes. The company is developing anti-invasin and anti-biofilm therapeutics -- a new class of anti-infectives targeting fungal and bacterial pathogens -- and is applying precision engineering to improve biomanufacturing efficiencies for pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals.
Source: Microbia, Inc.