A small Omaha biotech start-up company is laying the grounds for a new tool in the worldwide fight against antibiotic resistance. Founded by Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., Prommune focuses on a novel approach, which essentially involves reawakening the body’s own immune defenses to fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
The approach emanates from Sanderson’s research undertaken with colleagues in San Diego as well as from technology developed in his own lab where he has worked for 24 years as a research associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Sanderson has worked closely with two other Bio Nebraska members — Dr. Kelly Lechtenberg of Midwest Veterinary Services to demonstrate therapeutic effectiveness in production animals and Benchmark Biolabs to demonstrate potential use in aquaculture, specifically to fight off bacterial infections in fish.
One of the first applications may be for treating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which causes serious and often times lethal infections. MRSA infections are on the rise worldwide and are rapidly growing resistant to the known antibiotics. Prommune’s technology, known as EP67, reawakens the host’s own natural immunity to fight and consume the bacteria. This ability to induce one’s natural immunity is effective against bacteria that have become resistant to conventional antibiotics and also overcomes the tendency for bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, this EP67-directed activation of host immunity can be used against fungal and viral infections as well.
The company has seven U.S. patents with another pending and is now working to optimize formulation, dosing and scheduling and then will complete safety and toxicity studies on its road toward a new animal drug application. The company hopes to eventually enter the human market.
Leaping into the entrepreneurial role has been seamless for Sanderson. “I’ve always felt that one’s research doesn’t mean much if it’s not structured to get out of the lab and into the hands of the people who could benefit from it.”
However, establishing a business from within the world of academia has been difficult, as has obtaining investment funds. “Therapeutic proof of concept has been clearly established and the steps to getting out of the ‘valley of death’ stage of development are straightforward, albeit expensive, so it is aggravating when investors see this as too early for any investment.”
Sanderson’s advice to entrepreneurs in waiting? “Move with confidence in the direction of your dreams and don’t let the issues, problems and difficulties — and they will be there — dissuade you. Just bull your way through them and be persistent. Win the war of attrition.”