US biopharmaceutical company licenses Monash University 'superbug' drug discovery

L-R Associate Professor Tony Velkov, Professor Philip Thompson, Professor Jian Li, Dr Kade Roberts, Professor Roger Nation
L-R Associate Professor Tony Velkov, Professor Philip Thompson, Professor Jian Li, Dr Kade Roberts, Professor Roger Nation

Monash University announced today the grant of an exclusive licence of its portfolio of proprietary synthetic polymyxin antibiotics to Qpex Biopharma, a US-based biopharmaceutical company focused on developing new antibiotics to combat the growing threat of global antimicrobial resistance.

The novel polymyxin antibiotics have been developed by researchers at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), led by Professor Jian Li, Associate Professor Tony Velkov, Professor Roger Nation, Dr Kade Roberts and Professor Philip Thompson. These researchers are world leaders in polymyxin pharmacology and medicinal chemistry.

Supported by funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) (R01AI098771), the research team has identified a promising clinical candidate that is currently being evaluated ahead of an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the US Food and Drug Administration. Qpex intends to take the drug candidate into a Phase 1 clinical trial.

The development of the new polymyxin is designed to meet an increasingly urgent healthcare need. By 2050, antimicrobial-resistant infections may kill 10 million people per year ( The World Health Organization (WHO) identified a Priority Pathogen List for which new antibiotics are urgently needed. Gram-negative ‘superbugs’ are at the top of the list and present a major global health challenge.

This challenge has been further compounded by the lack of development of new antibiotics targeting these Gram-negative bacteria. As a result, the available polymyxin antibiotics are often the only option available for doctors to treat pathogens that are resistant to all other antibiotics. However, kidney toxicity and poor efficacy against lung infections have significantly limited their clinical use. No new polymyxins have been approved for use since the 1950s.

“The world desperately needs better polymyxins and in pre-clinical animal studies our novel synthetic polymyxins show improved efficacy and safety over the currently used polymyxin drugs. It is very exciting to see a clinical candidate successfully identified from this 5-year project. We are thrilled with the partnership with the highly experienced and proven Qpex team who will progress the development of a clinical candidate. We are very grateful to the NIAID/NIH for funding this program and many group members for their contributions over the years.” said Professor Li, who heads the Monash polymyxin drug discovery research.

“This is a great example of the potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration and the power of support for drug discovery by national and international funding agencies, as well as industry,” said Professor Chris Porter, Director the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, said “We want our research to deliver benefits to society and solve unmet medical need. This partnership with Qpex is a perfect example of accelerating the commercialisation to bring a vital new drug to the market.”

Doctor Michael Dudley, PharmD, President and CEO of Qpex Biopharma said, “We believe the new polymyxin clinical drug candidate emerging from this collaboration will have an improved profile over other members of this class. This program joins our internal pipeline of products under development to address serious and urgent resistance threats. We look forward to advancing these programs in development within our partnership with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).”

About the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS)

MIPS is home to Australia’s largest group of pharmaceutical sciences researchers, with more than 250 research-active staff and 240 PhD students. MIPS’ tagline is ‘Better Medicines by Design’ and this captures a vision for excellence in translational drug discovery and development.  Its research has contributed to Monash University’s ranking of #3 in the world for pharmacy and pharmacology in the 2019 QS World University Rankings by Subject, and positioning in the top two institutions for the number of Highly Cited Researchers (Clarivate Analytics) in the field of pharmacology and toxicology.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.