The Israeli Startup Combating Drug-Resistant Bacteria
CTech– Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is quickly becoming a growing health concern.
According to estimations by the World Health Organization, up to 10 million people could die each year due to antibiotics developing resistance. The report cited that none of the 43 antibiotics currently in clinical development properly address the problem of drug resistance to some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria. However, Mileutis, an Israeli bio-pharmaceutical startup, is developing a way to solve this worldwide problem.
“We realized that AMR isn’t going away anytime soon, and is going to be a major issue in the future,” Mileutis CEO David Javier Iscovich told CTech in an interview. He co-founded the company with his father, Dr. Jose Iscovich, an epidemiologist, based on their joint knowledge and expertise. The two decided to devise a solution that started at the root of the problem: animals.
Mileutis has developed a safer method, which has already received regulatory approval in Europe via the European Medicines Agency and in North America. The products, termed Imilac and Milac, are two safe naturally-derived alternatives to antimicrobials, taken from existing proteins in cow’s milk, and are administered to dairy cows once a year.
Animals come first
Mileutis is choosing to approach the problem the other way around, by focusing on animal health first.
“Antimicrobials are administered to 70 percent of livestock, and don’t just affect them, but also humans and our environment. Pathogens develop AMR, and later harm us. We’re all connected. It’s a larger than life problem,” he said, drawing a parallel to the recent and distressing example of the emergence of COVID-19, which according to US Congressional and WHO investigations stemmed from an outbreak that spread from bats to humans in Wuhan, China.
“Similar to COVID-19, if we give antibiotics to animals, then those pathogens develop resistance and we can get infected too,” he said. “Today, nearly five million people have died of COVID-19. According to our estimates, twice that amount could die due to AMR,” he said. “So, in order to manage AMR, we first need to treat animals.”
Mileutis’ product enhances the immune system, and is also more financially sustainable in the long term, since the company’s products are relatively cheap to develop. After treating cows, the company can then work on developing products to treat humans too.
“We can treat simple infections today with antibiotics and save lives, but they’re not going to be treatable in the future,” he said, explaining that if someone gets bitten by a tick and receives a simple over-the-counter antibiotic, in the future those may be no longer effective. Antibiotic overuse is a growing problem. “If we continue using antibiotics in such a widespread manner, the next time someone goes to hospital with a tick bite, they could die,” he said. “Antibiotics play a very important role in modern health, but we need to make sure they stay that way.”
And the story all starts with cows. Antibiotic resistance is a major issue in the dairy industry, since dairy cattle suffer from mastitis – a disease that leaves mammary glands inflamed – and must be treated with antibiotics. Nearly 97 percent of dairy cattle worldwide receive antibiotics every year, particularly 60 days before the dry off season, where they bear calves. Farmers halt milking cows, and let them rest until they give birth. Between 30-40 percent of dairy cows contract mastitis in some form, and are treated with antibiotics either once or twice, leading 7 percent to leave herds every year. “That milk needs to be dumped, and it’s not an economically feasible solution,” he explained. That’s where Mileutis comes in: its product is effective in stopping infections, reducing up to 90 percent of the antibiotics currently administered to cows.
Mileutis is based in Ness Ziona, was founded in 2004, and has raised $20 million so far from over 20 private investors and financial bodies, in Europe, the US and Israel. The company was recently invited to present its solution at the 40th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. As for when the company will go public, Iscovich noted: “We’ve created a big solution to a big problem – one that will reach the market very soon,” but did not provide a definite date. Last year, the company received funding from Novaquest Capital Management LLC, a contract research organization (CRO), and major player in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I worked with universities for a long time, and think there are many excellent projects out there, but sometimes the industry wants to take them further without fully comprehending the science behind it. There should be better alignment between how the industry evaluates these projects and how they are developed without negatively affecting scientists. We need to let scientists do their research – even if there’s a gap between the science and what the industry expects. We can build a platform to resolve this gap by generating a better proof of concept (PoC), and encouraging better collaboration, more listening,” Iscovich relayed.