Fighting global disease

Fighting global disease

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Heather Laura Clarke

Appili Therapeutics wages war on dangerous bacteria

They don’t wear capes and masks, but a team of employees in Halifax is working hard to save the citizens of earth from infectious disease.

Experts in drug development, infectious disease and commercialization founded Appili Therapeutics less than three years ago — and the company has already been making a difference on a global level.

Appili Therapeutics’ CEO, Kevin Sullivan, says winning New Business of the Year at the 2017 Halifax Business Awards was an important moment in the early life cycle of the company.

“We’d come a long way fairly quickly and we’d also been successful in the fundraising end of things — raising just shy of $12 million in equity financing as well as $14.6 million in non-diluted funding [through partnerships and incentive programs] to support our three programs,” says Sullivan.

“We were able to do a lot in a short period of time and it got people’s attention.” Since winning the award last January, Sullivan says the Appili Therapeutics team has been charging ahead and continuing to expand, going from 14 employees to 20.

“Last year we grew our management team and this year we’ve been focusing on filling out the organization with a number of critical roles,” says Sullivan. “We’ve been finding the right people in business development, finance, project management and regulatory affairs.”

He says the company’s approach focuses on “matching clearly defined medical needs with opportunities for more effective solutions,” which range from improvements in established therapies to entirely new classes of anti-infectives.

Because Appili Therapeutics isn’t bound to a specific technology or platform, employees are able to consider a wide range of additions and target programs that rapidly generate value or represent significant advances in the treatment of infectious diseases.

“The focus has always been to build a balanced risk portfolio that’s a mix of products close to market, which can generate revenue and cash flow — and programs in the earlier stages of development — which can really and truly change how we treat infectious diseases,” explains Sullivan. “The faster-to-market products give the company stability and the higher-risk programs provide the long-term potential growth.”

At the moment, their near-to-patient focus is the ATI-1501 program, which has finished its clinical trial and is on track to file its New Drug Application (NDA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the end of the year. It’s an oral suspension (liquid) form of antibiotic that’s designed to help pediatric and elderly patients who have difficulty swallowing.

Sullivan says their ATI-1503 program is in the critical gram-negative antibiotic space, where there is discussion surrounding antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” The Appili team is also working on a brand-new vaccine to combat a dangerous strain of bacteria called francisella tularensis.

“It’s a thousand times more potent than anthrax, so it could be used as a bioterrorism weapon,” says Sullivan.

“The program is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, so we’re developing a vaccine to protect troops as well as the civilian population against this potential bioterrorism threat.”

Since Appili Therapeutics’ business model centres around growth through acquisition, Sullivan says their new asset identification team has been hunting for their future programs.

“We’ve looked at more than 150 different infectious disease programs globally and there are a few we’re interested in,” says Sullivan. “If we’re successful in bringing those in, we’ll have some important announcements to make in the coming year.”

Sullivan says the company’s focus is entirely global, but it works well for Appili to maintain their head office in Halifax, along with a secondary office in Toronto.

“Halifax is a great place to launch a company and the local business community has been extremely supportive,” says Sullivan. “There’s a lot of good talent coming out of local universities and we’ve been able to attract a really topnotch team to drive our growth.”

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