Resistance is Futile: The Lure of Infectious Disease Investing
This article was originally published in Start Up
The comparatively low-risk opportunity in antibiotics is quite attractive to VCs. But the risk reduction comes with a price--lower returns.
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Despite the global increase in resistant bacterial infections, investment in development of new antibiotics and antimicrobials has declined over the past few years. Siena-based Molteni Therapeutics is taking a new look at antibacterials and antifungals, creating small-molecule photosensitizers activated by visible red light that destroy fungal and bacterial cells, in an approach known as antimicrobial photodynamic therapy.
Trius Therapeutics Inc. intends to create drugs that are capable of combating resistant bacteria and are meaningfully differentiated from currently marketed products. It says its lead candidate will be "a true second-generation" version of linezolid (Zyvox), as yet the sole marketed compound in the class of drugs known as oxazolidinones. Linezolid's proven ability to combat Gram-positive bacteria such as MRSA and Streptococcus has made it a blockbuster on track to generate $1 billion in revenues this year. If Trius can develop an antibiotic that is safer and more effective than Zyvox, and that also possesses additional attributes that improve on the original drug, that new compound could commandeer significant market share.
Like numerous other companies working to develop novel anti-bacterial drugs, MicuRx Pharmaceuticals Inc. aims to modify existing chemical scaffolds to come up with better compounds. The start-up is particularly interested in four scaffolds known to inhibit protein synthesis-a common mechanism of action for anti-bacterial drugs. While the company's CEO and CSO-both of whom were among the scientific founders of Vicuron Pharmaceuticals--can offer much from their personal experience, MicuRx is carefully mining medical literature for insights and observations that can inform specific modifications to drug molecules.