Merck & Co., New England Patriots Owner Wager $30 Million on Cambridge Startup, Spero

Merck & Co. (MRK), New England Patriots Owner Wager $30 Million on Cambridge Startup, Spero
June 8, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Spero Therapeutics, LLC, a startup company that launched in 2013, secured $30 million in financing to advance the company’s Potentiator franchise into clinical development by 2016 as well as submit an Investigational New Drug application on an anti-virulence program with pharmaceutical giant Roche .

Spero said it will also use a portion of the funding to develop additional programs in its pipeline focused on unmet medical needs in bacterial infections. Spero has multiple combinations of approved agents with potentiators that it is advancing into clinical studies for a range of indications including complicated urinary tract infections and complicated intra-abdominal infections. These programs were in-licensed from Northern Antibiotics Ltd. Terms of this transaction were not disclosed.

Spero will also advance its MvfR inhibitor program in collaboration with Roche, which targets mechanisms of virulence and persistence in Gram-negative organisms. Spero is expanding its pipeline of anti-infectives through the addition of a Potentiator program targeting Gram-negative infections. The Spero Potentiator program is a franchise of “development candidate stage proprietary molecules designed for use in combination with existing anti-infectives agents,” the company said. The outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria acts as a barrier to antibiotics, limiting access of antibacterial agents.

Through the use of Potentiators, which interact with the Gram-negative outer membrane, enables access for the medication. Additionally the Potentiator enables agents such as macrolides, which are traditionally used for Gram-positive infections, to treat multi-drug resistant Gram-negative infections and increase the potency of agents used for Gram-negatives such as meropenem, the company said.

“Our vision is to continue growing as a premier drug discovery and development organization focused on breakthrough anti-infective therapies. Our novel approaches to the major unmet need of Gram-negative infections show tremendous breadth and promise, and this financing round will fuel our continued growth in this very promising and rapidly growing field,” Ankit Mahadevia, co-founder and chief executive officer of Spero, said in a statement

The latest round of financing could mean Spero could double the number of employees from 10 to 20, XConomy reported. Over the past decade pharmaceutical companies have gotten away from investing in antibiotics due to the regulatory issues of approving new antibiotics and low profit margin. However, the federal GAIN (Generating Antibiotics Incentives Now) Act, passed in 2012, and new guidelines set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have cleared a pathway for companies like Spero and others focusing on antibiotics to have greater chance of success, Forbes noted.

As antibiotics were being prescribed more often and being included in the feed for food-animals, more and more bugs were becoming resistant to antibiotics. The GAIN Act was designed to provide pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies with incentives to develop new innovative antibiotics for the treatment of life-threatening infectious diseases causes by drug resistant pathogens. With these federal initiatives in place, more investors are looking at funding anti-bacterial medications.

Lundbeckfond Ventures led the round as a new investor with participation from additional new investors Merck Research Ventures and The Kraft Group, which is lead by the owner of the New England Patriots. Other investors included Atlas Venture, Partners Innovation Fund and GlaxoSmithKline ’s investment arm SR Once. Six months ago Merck & Co. acquired Massachusetts-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Inc. , also an antibiotics company, for $8.4 billion and promptly sent pink slips to many of its employees.

Spero launched with $3 million in funding from Roche.

When Will Pfizer's Breakup Happen?
Speculation that the revamping of Pfizer Inc. ’s internal business structure could happen as soon as this year has biotech wondering just when this Big Pharma company could see changes.

Last week an analyst with J.P. Morgan said he thinks there will be a much faster timeline than most of Wall Street had predicted for Pfizer’s stated mission to refocus its efforts on new medicines.

Pfizer initially announced in 2012 that it would be shedding units that were non-essential to that goal. It then promptly sold its nutrition silo to Nestle for $11.85 billion, which was rapidly accompanied by a public spin-off of its animal health business for $2.2 billion.

“While a Pfizer break-up would likely be a 2017 event, we see potential catalysts in 2015-2016," said Chris Schott, an analyst at J.P. Morgan. "Three years of audited financial statements (2014-2016) are required before any part of Pfizer can be spun off, and we also see 2017 as an attractive time for action as investors see Pfizer’s innovative pipeline clearly contributing to growth and the established business having transitioned to a more stable profile."

BioSpace wants to know what you think: Will Pfizer be a changed company by the end of 2015?

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