With $25M in the bank, French startup sets its sights on sepsis

Inotrem CEO Jean-Jacques Garaud

France's Inotrem is working up a novel approach to the global scourge of sepsis, and now, thanks to some high-profile investors, the biotech has $25 million to take its immunotherapy from the benchtop to the clinic.

Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners and Sofinnova Partners led Inotrem's Series A, joined by Biomed Invest and Inserm Transfert Initiative.

The big idea behind Inotrem's top prospect is goading the immune system to better fight back against sepsis by blocking a pathway called TREM-1, which is particularly up-regulated in patients suffering from the inflammatory disease. The drug has shown promise curbing excessive inflammation in animal models of sepsis, the company said, and the $25 million raise should carry the biotech through early-phase development and into clinical trials. At the same time, Inotrem is combing through biomarkers in hopes of developing a companion diagnostic that would identify sepsis patients most likely to benefit from the drug.

The company's TREM-1-targeting technology is based on work from France's University of Lorraine Medical School, helmed in part by Inotrem co-founder and Chief Science Officer Marc Derive. And the biotech has recruited Jean-Jacques Garaud--former head of Roche's ($RHHBY) pRED R&D division--to serve as CEO, bringing roughly 25 years of biopharma experience to the startup.

"We had a meeting of the minds, basically, bringing my expertise and my background so that the story could crystallize and make sense to investors," Garaud told FierceBiotech. "It's a mix of on one hand great science and people with a very strong background in R&D."

For Garaud, the allure of Inotrem's candidate, "beyond the biology and the beauty of the molecular mechanism," was its consistently excellent results in animal models, charting improved survival and bacterial clearance, he said. Plus, after a career full of stints at Dow, Schering-Plough, Novartis ($NVS) and Roche, Inotrem's bureaucracy-free micro organization is "very refreshing, indeed," Garaud said.

Other than antibiotics and symptomatic treatments, there are no targeted therapies approved for sepsis, and the unmet need is huge. The disease affects about 1% of the world's population each year with a 50% mortality rate, according Inotrem, making it the 10th leading cause of death in developed countries.

- read the announcement