People, Startups, Venture

Backed by giants, antibiotics upstart Macrolide gets $20M and an ex-Novartis exec as CEO

An antibiotics startup founded by the same guy who started boom-and-bust antibiotics company Tetraphase has hauled in $20 million in new capital and a longtime Novartis executive as its new president and CEO.

Mahesh Karande

With cash in hand and a new chief at the helm, the company plans to tackle some of the most dangerous superbugs around by tweaking an old class of antibiotics.

Watertown, MA-based Macrolide Pharmaceuticals raised the Series B round from three pharma giants, including the venture arms of GlaxoSmithKline (SR One), Novartis (Novartis Venture Fund), and Roche (Roche Ventures), among other investors.

Macrolide also has a big pharma executive on board with the recruitment of Mahesh Karande, who spent several years hopping around the world leading Novartis’ international business units. He was a VP and oncology business head in the US, president and pharma head for Africa and Egypt, and head of strategy and business development for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa. But Karande left Novartis last year to join Intarcia as VP and general manager — a role he left to take the helm at Macrolide.

As its name suggests, Macrolide (the company) is focused on macrolides, a class of antibiotics that has been widely used for decades to treat pneumonia and other bacterial infections. The effectiveness of these antibiotics has been negatively impacted by bacteria’s frustrating ability to become immune to drugs.

Andrew Myers

But Macrolide says its found a way to engineer a solution. The startup was founded on tech from the lab of Andrew Myers, a Harvard University chemist. You might recognize Myers as the guy who co-founded Tetraphase, an antibiotics maker that grew to a public valuation of over $1 billion before crashing hard following a Phase III flop of its lead antibiotic.

Macrolide has an exclusive license from Myers’ lab that gives the startup access to technology to engineer synthetic macrolides from scratch. Macrolide says its tech can expand the therapeutic range of these drugs to include not just gram-positive infections, but also gram-negative ones — those dangerous infections for which treatments are limited.

The new financing round is meant to support work that will back up an IND application for its lead program for resistant gram-negative pathogens.

“This positions Macrolide to further the pioneering work the team has done to date in advancing new macrolide antibiotics with Gram-negative activity,” Karande said in a statement. “We believe that advancing first-in-class antibiotics that are active against lethal multi-drug resistant bacteria opens the door to a new and meaningful way to address the growing public health issue of treatment gaps due to antibiotic resistance.”


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