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.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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Sanofi takes a $260M hit to ex­tri­cate it­self from a dis­as­trous al­liance with Lex­i­con

Sanofi spent $300 million in cash to get into a $1.7 billion alliance with Lexicon on their SGLT1/2 diabetes drug sotagliflozin. And now that the drug has been spurned by the FDA after burning through a program that provided mixed late-stage data and a late shot at a last-place finish, the French pharma giant is forking over another $260 million to get out of the deal.

Sanofi’s unhappiness was already apparent when the company — now under new CEO Paul Hudson — posted a statement back in July that they were dropping the deal. But it wasn’t that simple. 

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.