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.
“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.
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