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Biotech Adds Antibiotic Program, Raises $30 Million

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH)

8 June 2015. Spero Therapeutics, a developer of antibiotics, is adding a new class of anti-infection drugs to its pipeline, and raised another $30 million to its first venture funding round. The Cambridge, Massachusetts biotechnology company, a spin-off from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was founded in April 2014 to develop therapies addressing the growing problem of bacteria resistant to current antibiotics.

Spero’s new antibiotics, called potentiators, are designed to interact with and pierce the outer layer of gram-negative bacteria, often found difficult to penetrate with current drugs.  Potentiators, says the company, are new types of chemicals — licensed from Northern Antibiotics Ltd., in Helsinki, Finland — designed to work with other antibiotics, and are active against both gram-negative and gram-positive microbes. “Gram” refers to a classification for bacteria where the microbes either retain (gram-positive) or shed (gram-negative) a test stain on their protective cell coatings.

Spero’s lead program is a class of antibiotics that regulate the virulence and persistence of gram-negative bacteria, especially Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, where infections can range from mild to serious, particularly in health care settings. These multiple virulence factor regulators, as Spero calls them, block the signaling mechanisms that give the bacteria their potency and persistence, a particular problem with chronic infections.

The company first formed in April 2014 by life science venture company Atlas Venture with Partners Innovation Fund, the venture capital division of hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School, including Mass. General. Spero licensed the research of Laurence Rahme, a molecular biologist at Mass. General working on bacterial diseases (and scientific founder of Spero), which the company extended to design its multiple virulence factor regulators.

Spero is collaborating with the pharmaceutical company Roche to develop multiple virulence factor regulators, and Roche has an option to license the technology upon reaching clinical stage. Roche is helping fund the company’s research on these antibiotics, and will provide milestone payments after licensing.

The new $30 million funding adds to the initial $3 million raised at start-up. The new financing is led by  Lundbeckfond Ventures, with new investors Merck Research Ventures and The Kraft Group, and current investors Atlas Venture, SR One, and Partners Innovation Fund taking part. Spero plans to apply the funds to developing its potentiator and multiple virulence factor regulator treatments, with the goal of reaching clinical trials in 2016.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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