Turns out, Melinta didn’t bag all of The Medicines Company’s infectious disease work when they executed a buyout deal last fall. There were some preclinical assets in the pipeline as well, and now some of the execs involved have gained the backing of investors to use it to create a pipeline for a startup venture.
Qpex, which announced the closing of a $33 million Series A financing round, now has access to $MDCO’s beta-lactamase inhibitor technology. Beta-lactamases are a family of enzymes that hydrolyze and thereby inactivate beta-lactam antibiotics – a group of antimicrobials comprising four major groups: penicillins, cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems that are ubiquitous and account for nearly half of all prescribed antibiotics.
New Enterprise Associates led the financing syndicate and was accompanied by Adams Street Partners, LYZZ Capital, Hatteras Venture Partners and Stanford University Draper Fund.
The unbridled — and oft’ unnecessary — use of existing antibiotics by healthcare practitioners, and pervasive antibiotic use in food livestock has culminated in the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The World Health Organization now considers antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development, and in the United States, the CDC estimates at least 2 million people contract an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and at least 23,000 die as a result. Meanwhile, in recent years many large drugmakers such as Novartis $NVS, AstraZeneca $AZN, Allergan $AGN and Sanofi $SNY have abandoned their antibiotic research programs in favour of lucrative categories of unmet need such as cancer and rare diseases, that require similar R&D investments, but command higher prices and are typically used for longer.
Qpex, through its wholly-owned infectious disease subsidiary, already has in place a strategic partnership with BARDA that provides the potential for up to $132 million to support developing a portfolio of new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant, gram-negative infections.
At the Medicines Co, the team of executives spearheaded the approval of a combination drug, Vabomere, that is made up of the antibiotic meropenem and beta lactamase inhibitor vaborbactam, to treat complicated urinary tract infections, or the older Augmentin which was approved in 1990’s and is commonly used to tackle inner ear infections. Qpex is betting on these preclinical assets to develop similar combination treatments to fight superbugs.
The slow pace of antibiotic approvals — only 12 since the year 2000 — makes the space ripe for investment. Of the bigger players, only Merck $MRK, Roche $RHHBY, GlaxoSmithKline $GSK and Pfizer $PFE, have active antibiotic programs, according to Nature Biotechnology. Other smaller companies developing an armoury against multi-drug resistant pathogens include Cidara Therapeutics $CDTX, Spero Therapeutics $SPRO, Achaogen $AKAO, and Macrolide Pharmaceuticals. Scientists are also reviving research into decades-old idea to combat bacteria using the once-dismissed bacteriophage therapy.
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