Rib-X Pharmaceuticals - 2011 Fierce 15

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Rib-X Pharmaceuticals
Based: New Haven, CT
Founded: 2000
Website: www.rib-x.com/
CEO: Mark Leuchtenberger

The Scoop: This has been a big year for Rib-X. The biotech started off 2011 with a $20 million venture round, followed by a breakthrough partnership with Sanofi ($SNY)--which is betting Rib-X's scientific work can get it back in the antibiotic business. And the developer plans to end the year with a bang, offering Phase IIb data on its lead program.

What Makes It Fierce: CEO Mark Leuchtenberger (pictured) has been here before. When he helmed Targanta, the biotech ran into a thorny complete response letter from the FDA demanding more clinical work for their lead antibiotic. But in this business, experience is a big plus--even if it's the kind of experience that includes the forced sale of a company, as in Targanta's case.

So far, so good for the new CEO, who was brought in last year to replace co-founding CEO Susan Froshauer. Leuchtenberger has tuned Rib-X's trials to meet the FDA's new, tougher standards for studies on antibiotics and attracted keen attention to the company's pipeline. Once the IIb for delafloxacin wraps later this year, the CEO thinks the biotech will be ready to launch Phase III in the second half of 2012, putting the company on track to potentially file an NDA in 2014.

Sanofi signed on for an open-ended discovery deal and is now pumped about four antibiotics programs, says the CEO. And Rib-X has earned the emphatic backing of Sanofi's research chief, Elias Zerhouni. In addition to garnering $19 million in the first few weeks of their partnership, Rib-X stands to gain up to $186 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones for each successful antibiotic they can bring to the marketplace.

The company has travelled a long, hard road to reach where it is today. Rib-X was founded in 2000, and over the years its research team has been working on perfecting a new class of antibiotics that exploits its expertise with crystallography technology to better understand its target--the ribosome--and design broad spectrum antibiotics that worked in the lab. Now, several product generations into the game, the company has lured in Sanofi with its RX-04 discovery program. And it's already forming the foundation for RX-05 and RX-06.

IPOs have been difficult at best for high-risk developers awash in red ink, but Leuchtenberg thinks Rib-X could have a shot at going public if the IIb data lines up as expected. And there are other options, including additional private financing and new partnerships.

"Some folks who were interested in 04 are now interested in 05 and 06," says the CEO.

Rib-X has been beefing up its staff in New Haven. It stands at 45 now, with three of every four workers devoted to research. And Leuchtenberg plans to keep on growing as they head into a late-stage study, growing at a rate of 25% to 50% a year.

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have chastised Big Pharma for neglecting antibiotics. Chilled by the limited commercial opportunities, only a handful of new antibiotics were approved between 2003 and 2007. But a bevy of biotechs, including Tetraphase, Achaogen, Trius and Optimer, all agree there's quite a reward for any company that can produce reliable new antibiotics to face a wave of superbugs around the world. Rib-X, however, hopes to be in the lead.

Venture Backers: Warburg Pincus led the latest round. Other backers include ABS Ventures, Axiom Venture Partners, Cardinal Partners, Connecticut Innovations, EuclidSR Partners, MedImmune Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners, Radius Ventures, SR One and Vox Equity Partners I & II.

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