Rid­ers on the storm: Ve­na­toRx bags a $42M round to back an­tibi­otics pipeline

The small group of ex­pe­ri­enced biotech vets that start­ed Ve­na­toRx took their time get­ting the lead an­tibi­ot­ic pro­gram in­to the clin­ic. But af­ter get­ting rolling with an NIH con­tract and funds from the Well­come Trust in Lon­don, they are now bank­ing a $42 mil­lion B round led by Ver­sant Ven­tures with plans to take a di­rect shot at a pos­si­ble FDA ap­proval.

Chris Burns

“It took sev­er­al years of med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry in or­der to fi­nal­ly get the pro­file we want­ed,” Chris Burns, the CEO and co-founder at Ve­na­toRx, tells me. That wasn’t un­ex­pect­ed. The com­pa­ny, based in Malvern, PA, was launched by a vir­tu­al group of just three af­ter No­var­tis ac­quired their old com­pa­ny — Pro­tez, with a lead an­tibi­ot­ic of its own — in 2008. And this is the first time the com­pa­ny has as­sem­bled a big block of cash to fund the next leg of de­vel­op­ment.

Their lead is VN­RX-5133, a β‐lac­ta­mase in­hibitor de­signed to go hand in hand with a β‐lac­tam an­tibi­ot­ic, play­ing a block­ing role for the en­zymes that can de­feat an an­tibi­ot­ic’s ef­fi­ca­cy. Burns and his team be­lieve they have a new ther­a­peu­tic weapon that can take down the 4 ma­jor class­es of β‐lac­ta­mases, in­clud­ing met­al­lo‐β‐lac­ta­mases, giv­ing a new lease on life to an­tibi­otics in wide use.

Drug-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria is a grow­ing prob­lem, but the team at Ve­na­toRx are still very much think­ing longterm. The typ­i­cal life span of an an­tibi­ot­ic starts with care­ful, re­served use for spe­cial cas­es in­clud­ing drug re­sis­tance, fol­lowed by a prof­li­gate stage where it’s rou­tine­ly used.

As the an­tibi­ot­ic moves down the pyra­mid, it be­comes less valu­able.

“You build the house,” says Burns, “and the ground moves un­der the house.”

Ve­na­toRx wants their new prod­uct ap­proved in time for what they see as a com­ing round of grow­ing re­sis­tance for the an­tibi­otics they plan to pro­tect. Says Burns, “You ar­rive at the place as the storm is about to hit.”

By Burns’ reck­on­ing, the key pe­ri­od for Ve­na­toRx will be 2020-2030. And he hopes to be ready.

“We’re go­ing right for reg­is­tra­tion stud­ies af­ter Phase I,” says the CEO. “We ex­pect to be in reg­is­tra­tion stud­ies in the first half of next year.”

Watch­ing the cash they have now, Burns says BAR­DA of­fers a shot at ad­di­tion­al rev­enue to fund the piv­otal pro­gram. And the com­pa­ny is ex­pand­ing the pipeline with new projects as well.

The three founders are now sup­port­ed by a grow­ing team of 40 and a syn­di­cate of in­vestors. Ver­sant Ven­tures, which en­joys trav­el­ing off the beat­en path as it looks for new op­por­tu­ni­ties, took the lead on this fundrais­ing, joined by Abing­worth and Fore­site Cap­i­tal.

'Chang­ing the whole game of drug dis­cov­ery': Leg­endary R&D vet Roger Perl­mut­ter leaps back in­to work as a biotech CEO

Roger Perlmutter needs no introduction to anyone remotely involved in biopharma. As the R&D chief first at Amgen and then Merck, he’s built a stellar reputation and a prolific career steering new drugs toward the market for everything from cancer to infectious diseases.

But for years, he’s also held a less known title: science partner at The Column Group, where he’s regularly consulted about the various ideas the VCs had for new startups.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

The DCT-OS: A Tech­nol­o­gy-first Op­er­at­ing Sys­tem - En­abling Clin­i­cal Tri­als

As technology-enabled clinical research becomes the new normal, an integrated decentralized clinical trial operating system can ensure quality, deliver consistency and improve the patient experience.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines has many of us looking forward to a time when everyday things return to a state of normal. Schools and teachers are returning to classrooms, offices and small businesses are reopening, and there’s a palpable sense of optimism that the often-awkward adjustments we’ve all made personally and professionally in the last year are behind us, never to return. In the world of clinical research, however, some pandemic-necessitated adjustments are proving to be more than emergency stopgap measures to ensure trial continuity — and numerous decentralized clinical trial (DCT) tools and methodologies employed within the last year are likely here to stay as part of biopharma’s new normal.

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er hits the brakes on their piv­otal tri­al for a BC­MA/CD3 bis­pe­cif­ic on safe­ty con­cerns while FDA road­block is hold­ing up Duchenne MD PhI­II

Pfizer’s ambitious plan to take a Phase II study of its BCMA CD3-targeted bispecific antibody elranatamab (PF-06863135) and run it through to an accelerated approval has derailed.

The pharma giant said in a release this morning that they have halted enrollment for their MagnetisMM-3 study after researchers tracked three cases of peripheral neuropathy in the ongoing Phase I. They are now sharing info with the FDA as they explore the red safety flag.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ra­maswamy and Matt Gline swoop in­to Nas­daq on the wings of Jim Mom­tazee's SPAC with a $7B-plus Roivant de­but ready to do some deals

Seven years after founding Roivant Sciences as an upstart contender in the world of biotech creation, Vivek Ramaswamy and his recently anointed CEO Matt Gline are gliding into Nasdaq on the gilded wings of a cash-heavy SPAC.

In a carefully crafted SPAC pact aimed at wedding new investors at Montes Archimedes Acquisition Corp. with a syndicate of investors coming back to re-up for the next round of company building, they’ve assembled a fresh $611 million in financing for Roivant — $411 million held in trust from the investors in MAAC with a fresh $200 million from the syndicate.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

FDA ex­tends re­search agree­ment with MIT-li­censed or­gan-on-chip sys­tems

The FDA on Wednesday extended its four-year agreement with CN Bio, a developer of single- and multi-organ-on-chip systems used for drug discovery, for another three years.

CN Bio said the scope of the research performed by the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has expanded to include the exploration of the company’s lung-on-a-chip system to help with the agency’s evaluation of inhaled drugs, in addition to the agency’s work on its liver model.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

In quest to meet user fee goals, FDA’s per­for­mance con­tin­ues down­ward trend

A recent update to the FDA’s running tally of how it’s meeting its user fee-related performance goals during the pandemic shows an agency that is not out of the woods yet.

The latest numbers reveal that for a second straight quarter in 2021, the FDA has met its user fee goal dates for 93% of original new drug applications, which compares with 94% and 98% for the previous two quarters in 2020, respectively.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Kelli Luginbuhl and Ashutosh Chilkoti

Start­up sets out to tack­le the gene ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing cri­sis

After Kelli Luginbuhl finished her PhD, her advisor, Duke bioengineer and PhaseBio co-founder Ashutosh Chilkoti, sat her down and asked if she wanted to launch and then run a company. Chilkoti had a once-obscure technology he and the venture capitalist Joe McMahon thought could form the basis of his second company and finally pay huge dividends. Luginbuhl knew the tech from years in his lab and was already looking for biotech jobs. It all added up.

June Lee, Esker CEO

Vik Ba­ja­j's start­up in­cu­ba­tor at Fore­site un­cloaks an im­munol­o­gy play­er with a lead TYK2 in­hibitor in tow

Looking at a healthcare system made more unequal by Covid-19, Foresite Capital managing director Vik Bajaj recently launched an expansive plan to launch five innovative startups to address unmet need. Just weeks after the first of those biotechs emerged from stealth, a second has now uncloaked, and it’s got immunology in its sights.

Esker Therapeutics launched Wednesday with a $70 million Series A to pursue precision immunology targets backed by Foresite Labs’ analytics engine kickstarted by Bajaj’s team, the biotech said. Foresite footed the entire round for Esker as it continues to develop its pipeline and advance its lead compound.

Josh Bilenker, Endpoints JPM 2020

Josh Bilenker and Jeff En­gel­man bun­dle a moth­er lode of cash for their stealthy start­up, at­tract­ing a who's who of biotech in­vestors

Josh Bilenker and Jeff Engelman won’t be worrying about money for their stealthy startup anytime soon.

Late last week the pair filed a Form D for their new biotech Treeline Biosciences outlining a $212 million raise for their new company — which Bilenker founded around the time he ejected from his top position at Eli Lilly’s oncology group.

Their plan is to top out the raise at $220 million, but with Bilenker’s list of marquee investors on board for his latest creation, that won’t be much of a stretch.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.