6:16 PM
 | 
Mar 29, 2018
 |  BC Innovations  |  Finance

Bug money

Identifying venture investments in novel antibacterials

Despite the tremendous public health need and the introduction of regulatory incentives including expedited review and market exclusivity, venture investing in antibiotics remains modest and focused primarily on clinical assets seeking to improve on known classes of small molecule antibiotics. But a small contingent is backing new mechanisms and preclinical assets that could avoid resistance for longer.

Since January 2015, VCs have invested just $1 billion in companies whose lead assets are intended to treat or prevent bacterial infection. The amount is about 4% of total venture funding during the same period (see “Betting Against Bugs”).

About 55% of that funding has consisted of follow-on venture investments of series B or higher in companies with products in the clinic that alter the delivery, specificity or resistance profiles of established chemical classes.

These strategies are and will continue to be an important tool in combating resistant infections, but new ideas also are desperately needed to get ahead of future drivers of resistance.

“Given that there are large scientific and financial barriers to true innovation, we do still need to fill the existing gaps in the pipeline with tweaks in existing molecules,” said Sarah Paulin, a technical officer in the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines and Health Products division.

“Given that there are large scientific and financial barriers to true innovation, we do still need to fill the existing gaps in the pipeline with tweaks in existing molecules.”

Sarah Paulin, WHO

A WHO pipeline review identified 51 clinical products with efficacy against the organization’s 11 top priority pathogens. Yet WHO determined just eight of those candidates met at least one criterion for “innovativeness.” The criteria included belonging to a new chemical class, having a new target or mechanism of action, or lacking cross-resistance to existing antibiotics.

Vance Fowler, a professor of medicine, molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University and principal investigator of its Antibacterial Resistance Leadership Group, agreed that improved versions of existing antibiotic classes are “critical to our armamentarium.” But he said it’s unlikely they’ll solve the resistance problem. “While all of these conventional antibiotic agents are necessary, I’m not sure that any of them are sufficient.”

Market realities for antibiotics, including low price points and antibiotic-sparing strategies intended to stave off resistance, continue to limit both the number of VCs in the space and the number of...

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