Novo Holdings' antibiotic resistance fund backs 3 biotechs

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
REPAIR reviewed more than 100 “high-quality proposals” last year and is lining up new investments. (Getty/Dr_Microbe)

Novo Holdings’ REPAIR Impact Fund has revealed investments in three antibiotic resistance startups. The investments funneled around $16 million (€14 million) of the fund’s $165 million budget into the startups to support research into antibiotics and prophylactic vaccines.  

Novo, the holding company for Novo Nordisk, created the impact fund almost 12 months ago to help biotechs take drugs and vaccines against resistant microorganisms through discovery and early-stage development. The life science investment group gave the fund a total budget of $165 million and a brief to back about 20 projects in the U.S. and Europe over the next three to five years.

The fund unveiled its first investment, a CHF 6.8 million stake in Polyphor, in September but then went quiet for the rest of 2018. Now, REPAIR has revealed three other investments it made in the last few months of the year.

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Two of the investments involved European biotechs. Danish startup Minervax, an existing part of the Novo Seeds portfolio, received €3.6 million from the REPAIR fund to support its work on a vaccine to protect babies from Group B streptococci, a type of bacteria responsible for around half of the life-threatening infections suffered by newborns. The vaccine is in the clinic.

REPAIR also committed €1.5 million to Procarta Biosystems, a British biotech that is developing oligonucleotide-based antimicrobials. Procarta’s oligonucleotides are designed to bind to transcription factors and thereby prevent the expression of genes essential to the survival and pathogenicity of the bacteria. The startup has a treatment for complex urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections in preclinical.

The third, and largest, investment involved Massachusetts-based Entasis Therapeutics. REPAIR put $10 million into the biotech’s $75 million Nasdaq IPO last year, helping it raise the money it needs to take its treatment for multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter infections through a phase 3 trial. 

While the Entasis investment involves a late-phase program, the other two deals are more indicative of where REPAIR thinks its money is most needed. 

“We back companies we believe can change the future of antibiotic resistance. Despite growing recognition of this global threat, there is an early-stage funding gap for new treatments, specifically from lead optimization up to phase 1 data,” Aleks Engel, director of REPAIR, said in a statement. 

Engel said REPAIR reviewed more than 100 “high-quality proposals” last year. This process led to the three newly unveiled investments, plus the earlier deal with Polyphor, and has left the fund with a pipeline of opportunities it plans to pursue this year. 

To aid this process, the REPAIR fund has appointed antimicrobial R&D specialist John Rex, formerly of AstraZeneca, as chairman of its scientific selection board. The board helps the fund to decide which companies to back.

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