Deaths linked to antibiotic resistant bacteria are steadily increasing. In Lofoten, ACD Pharma is developing bacteriophages as a solution to this global problem.
“This is a global threat and ACD Pharma’s work represents innovation at an international level. No one else in the world is doing what it does," says Randi Moland, senior adviser at Innovation Norway.
The global threat she talks about is antibiotic resistant bacteria. Several millions of people are already dying every year because of bacteria that have developed resistance. This is also a growing problem in agriculture and aquaculture.
ACD Pharma is working on part of the solution: bacteriophages. Bacteriophages are viruses that specifically infect bacteria. They are nature’s defence mechanisms and are found naturally in all environments on the planet. They are host-specific and only attack a specific species or strain of bacteria.
In 2018, ACD Pharma launched the world’s first bacteriophage product for the aquaculture industry, CUSTUS. CUSTUS is aimed at the very common Yersinia bacterium, which causes diseases in salmon. The bacterium is especially dangerous with respect to causing outbreaks when fish are exposed to stress, such as during vaccination, transport, or delousing.
“CUSTUS was initially developed as a proof of concept of the idea of using bacteriophages. In 2018, the demand was not particularly high, although since then aquaculture has experienced major challenges with this bacterium, which over time has changed such that existing vaccines are no longer as efficient,” says Simon Brink, COO at ACD Pharma.
Thus, demand for the world’s first bacteriophage product has increased massively.
ACD Pharma is now in the process of building the world’s first drug-approved bacteriophage factory in Leknes in Lofoten. Here, it will continue to develop more bacteriophage products, including for use on humans.
“This is an old technology that was discovered before antibiotics were discovered, although they have never been produced in this way before. No templates exist for the factory and production lines so everything will need to be designed from the bottom up. This involves a lot of work, and it is expensive. The support from Innovation Norway has been enormously important," says Brink.
Innovation Norway Nordland has accompanied it on the journey since 2016, and the company has received environmental technology grants, innovation grants, and rural-oriented investment grants. Brink says that it has greatly appreciated having the Nordland office on its team.
“The financial support has been very important, although what has really been invaluable is having Innovation Norway as an adviser and supporter. Without it, it would have been almost impossible to get where we are today.”
Can also produce vaccines
“The potential is enormous, and it is a very exciting project with a serious, impressive player. Norway could really position itself here and become a world leader,” says senior adviser Moland.
She also points out the value to the local community in Leknes, which is already home to the company’s head office. She believes that ACD Pharma’s decision to locate the factory in this small town will have positive ripple effects, with respect to both jobs and suppliers, not to mention the skills it will attract to the area.
In addition to producing bacteriophages, ACD wants to build the factory such that it can also be used to produce vaccines in case of a new pandemic.
"During the Covid pandemic we did not have the facilities necessary to enable Norway to produce vaccines quickly. The fact that this factory will be certified for the production of vaccines if needed, is of major value to both society and the company,” says Moland.