My Dad, Clarence “Rob” Robinson, has always been a very tough guy.
He played football in high school, and then again as a U.S. Marine. During a game at Camp Pendleton, an injury put his right knee in a cast. Later, while fighting in Vietnam, his left knee was wounded.
But he refused to let the injuries slow him down.
Now, however, as he approaches his 80th birthday, my Dad has to take action. Next month, he goes in for a knee replacement.
It’s become a pretty common procedure, so I’m not worried about the surgery itself.
But I am a bit concerned about “Super Bugs.”
You know what I’m talking about. Drug-resistant Super Bugs are afflicting hospitals, clinics and patients all across the country.
In fact, I’ll wager that you know of a family member, friend or co-worker who’s dealt with this scary – even terrifying – malady.
For patients, these drug-resistant afflictions are something to fear. But for investors and drugmakers, they represent a $9 billion opportunity.
The technical term for one of the most prevalent Super Bugs is “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.” You may also have heard it referred to as “MRSA” (pronounced “Mer-Suh”), or even as a “staph” infection.
Super Bugs like MRSA are potentially deadly microbes that have mutated so many times over the years that they have become virtually immune to standard antibiotics. They can sometimes even withstand multiple courses of multiple medications – including the strongest doctors have in their treatment arsenals. And they can invade hospitals and kill recovering patients whose weakened immune systems just can’t fight off the drug-resistant bacteria.
In the United States alone, MRSA kills an estimated 20,000 people a year – more than AIDS – and the same number in Europe.
And MRSA isn’t the only Super Bug threat.
Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is ringing the alarm bell because a nasty new bug has so far killed half the patients it’s infected.
This Super Bug is known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. (Thank heavens it’s called CRE for short.) CRE has manifested a fourfold increase in the past decade, infecting patients in some 42 states.
Just how big a deal does the healthcare community believe this to be?
Well, just last week, Dame Sally Davies, the United Kingdom’s chief medical officer, said these drug-resistant bugs are “a ticking time bomb – not only for the U.K., but also for the world.”
Indeed, Davies said Super Bugs are a “horror story” that has led to a new infectious disease discovery almost every year for the past 30 years.
I don’t like the way that sounds – especially given my personal stake in this fight.
Fortunately, the biotech industry is looking to even the odds.
A number of Big Pharma players are using their muscle to tackle the Super Bug challenge.
For instance, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE ADR: GSK) and AstraZeneca PLC (NYSE ADR: AZN) each have active antibiotic R&D programs. But with combined market caps of almost $170 billion, the upside potential is modest, at best.
That’s why I’m more intrigued by a small-cap baby biotech called Trius Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: TSRX).
Trius, you see, is working on a fast-acting drug – tedizolid phosphate – for the treatment of serious infections … including Super Bugs like MRSA.
Trius has already completed most of the clinical trials needed to seek approval for a new drug. The few results it has made public demonstrate a success rate roughly equal to rivaling therapies, and fewer negative effects – while requiring just 60% of the treatment time.
If it’s able to report the results of another study – part of its second Phase III trial for the drug – by the end of the current quarter, the biopharma firm said it would file its “new drug application” (NDA) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the second half of this year.
Like many smaller biotechs, the company has a rough-and-tumble balance sheet, meaning it’s very much a high-risk type of stock. But with a market cap of just $270 million, and a share price of only $6.85, there’s a hefty potential upside should the Trius Super Bug drug gain the imprimatur of the FDA.
And that’s an outcome I’d like to see … for my Dad, and for all the MRSA patients to come.