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These pocket rocket superbug stocks could fly

Treasury minister Jim O’Neill is proposing to tax big pharma to pay for much-needed R&D on the next generation of antibiotics.

Picutre of anitbiotic pills, new ones will be needed to stop wave of resistant bacteria
If left unchecked the onslaught of superbugs such as MRSA will kill 10mln people a year

Treasury minister and former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill is proposing to tax big pharma to pay for much-needed research and development on the next generation of antibiotics.

His ‘play or pay’ scheme would also see firms rewarded who find new cures for infections that are proving nigh on impossible to treat with current crop of drugs.

It’s a unique approach and possibly divisive. But O’Neill is seeking international support at the G20 Summit and UN General Assembly later this year.

For antibiotic resistance is a ticking time-bomb. If left unchecked the onslaught of superbugs such as MRSA will kill 10mln people a year, experts warn.

Here we look at three AIM-listed pocket rockets with drugs at varying stages of development that could go stratospheric if they get a next-generation treatment to market.

Motif Bio Plc (LON:MTFB)

You will have read a lot on Motif if you’d been following our coverage since the company listed here in London just over a year ago. In that time its progress has been remarkable, though not fully reflected in the share price, which has more than doubled since IPO.

Its drug, Iclaprim, which is now in phase III clinical trials, is being developed for the treatment of the most common and serious bacterial infections such as acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections (ABSSSI) and hospital acquired bacterial pneumonia (HABP).

This includes hard-to-treat conditions caused by resistant strains such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and MDRSP (multi-drug resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae) that have become prevalent in patients in both the community and hospital settings.

Since listing in April 2015, Motif has met an aggressive timetable to get to the point of dosing patients with iclaprim. It has obtained regulatory approvals to commence phase III trials; raised £25m to fund the trials and appointed Covance to conduct the trials.

It has also gained qualified infectious disease product designation, giving iclaprim up to 10 years of US market exclusivity and fast-track designation for iclaprim.

With a valuation of £48mln, it is fair to say the UK market is overlooking the potential of Motif. Drugs giant Actavis paid £427mln for the company developing Dalvance, an antibiotic similar to Iclaprim that is now on the market. ORBACTIV is another similar drug out there and the jewel in the crown for The Medicines Company, listed on NASDAQ in the US and worth £1.7bn.

Summit Therapeutics PLC (LON:SUMM, NASDAQ:SMMT)

Summit is developing a treatment that combats hospital super-bug C.diff.

The findings of a recent study revealed patients responded better to its drug, which is called ridinilazole, than those receiving vancomycin, the current staple for patients. The antibiotic is now being prepared for phase III clinical trials and has been granted fast-track status by America’s Food & Drug Administration.

With over £17mln in the bank Summit is financially well endowed yet the £68mln market capitalisation probably fails to recognise the progress made to date with ridinilazole and a possible breakthrough it is working on for the muscle wasting disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

OptiBiotix Health plc (LON:OPTI)

OptiBiotix is an odd one. Its lead products are designed to use the human microbiome, which is found mainly in the gut but also on the skin, to tackle obesity and related diseases such as diabetes. And it is making significant headway in this regard in partnership with companies developing functional foods.

On Thursday it said it filed for patents covering the use of microbial proteins in skin care that have the potential to protect from super-bugs such as MRSA. The applications relate specifically to the use of these proteins in safeguarding against pathogenic bacteria, halting their spread and preventing re-attachment.

Treatments would likely to be formulated as creams or oils.

“The mechanism of action is different from current treatments, which may kill bacteria but then allow reattachment with more resistant bacteria,” explained OptiBiotix chief executive Stephen O’Hara.

“We see this as an exciting advance on current therapies and hope that it will make a significant contribution to diminish the pain and suffering cause by AMR [antimicrobial resistance] to vulnerable patients in hospitals across the world."

The stock is up over a half in the past year, but with a £50mln market cap, you get a lot of bang still for your buck.

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