Using Viral Proteins against Bacteria That Cause Acne

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Over 80% of adolescents and an increasing number of adults are affected by acne vulgaris, a skin condition caused by the Cutibacterium acnes bacteria (formerly Propionibacterium acnes). The Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR) recently received a Technology Assessment award from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII), as part of the Innovation Commercialization Program at TEDCO, to support work on a new approach to targeting C. acnes. IBBR Fellow Daniel Nelson, PhD, associate professor of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Maryland in College Park, will lead the project.

For decades, acne sufferers have relied on topical treatments containing drying agents and/or antibiotics despite a host of side effects ranging from skin irritation to the promotion of antibiotic resistance. Nelson is an expert in the biology of bacteriophage, viruses that infect and kill bacteria. He plans to apply his phage-based technology platform toward the development of an acne treatment with a novel mechanism of action.

Phage produce endolysins that cleave the protective cell wall of their bacterial hosts. Nelson has shown that purified endolysins can puncture the cell wall and kill bacteria in seconds upon contact, making endolysins a particularly attractive platform for topical applications.

“Endolysins represent an exciting new technology with the potential to offer a potent and safe treatment for acne, with minimal side effects and low risk of inducing drug resistance,” said Nelson.

The MII funding will support Nelson’s work to characterize C. acnes-specific endolysins in the laboratory, develop and test delivery formulas, and begin to assess safety and efficacy in various model systems. The goal is to develop the first direct-lytic agent (DLA) against C. acnes as a new, easy-to -use, topical treatment modality for acne.

Separately, the IBBR is accepting proposals on a case-by-case basis to lease a biomanufacturing facility in Rockville, MD, that is configured to produce biologicals under cGMP conditions in compliance with FDA requirements for Phase I/II clinical trials. The facility is also equipped to perform process development research, preclinical manufacturing for material necessary to conduct IND-enabling toxicology studies, proof-of-concept (POC) studies, and process demonstration in advance of GMP manufacturing, according to Viqar Aslam, director of business development and strategy.

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