Another startup jumps into antibiotics R&D as Iterum grabs a $40M round

A group of execs who helped steer Durata and its antibiotic Dalvance to a $675 million buyout by Actavis (now Allergan) have landed a $40 million Series A to launch a new biotech called Iterum Therapeutics.

Based in Dublin, Ireland, where it plans to concentrate manufacturing efforts in the future as it takes advantage of a favorable tax rate, Iterum is getting started with an antibiotic licensed from an unnamed pharma company.

Iterum will now join a steadily growing group of biotech startups like Spero and Cidara, which have been pushing ahead in the clinic with anti-infectives designed to provide some badly needed antibiotics at a time of growing drug resistance in the field.

"Three of the four venture investors from Durata are in this syndicate," says CEO Corey Fishman, who's staying put in Chicago--where Durata was based--as the 6-member startup crew at Iterum grows the staff and starts to build a pipeline.

The venture group--a well-funded group of transatlantic biotech investors--is providing the company's board. Fishman and Chairman Paul R. Edick, a founding partner at 3G Advisors, is joining Brent Ahrens, general partner at Canaan Partners, Dr. James Healy, general partner at Sofinnova Venture, Patrick Heron, managing general partner at Frazier Healthcare Partners and Ron Hunt, managing director at New Leaf Venture Partners. Frazier led the round, with help from the other three.

Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Michael Dunne was also a veteran of Durata.

Fishman is staying purposefully vague about the lead program for now. It's had some work in humans, he says, but there's plenty of research work that lies ahead. The round is big enough to get into next year, he adds, and the venture backers have the financial firepower to sustain the company as it moves ahead. He also confirmed that the unnamed company that out licensed the lead also took a small equity stake in the company, providing a relatively small upfront and a milestone package typical to most early-stage deals.

Is an eventual company sale in mind? Not now, says Fishman, adding that the plan is to build a company with a full pipeline, heading toward commercialization. On the other hand, if an offer comes along eventually, they'd consider it.

Antibiotics have been attracting fresh government incentives at a time health officials have been clamoring for fresh entries. Big Pharma largely bowed out of the field years ago, though Roche ($RHHBY) and Merck ($MRK)--which acquired Cubist--have been cautiously stepping up their involvement. 

The Big Pharma experience, though, has fallen short of a full embrace. Merck jettisoned Cubist's early-stage R&D efforts after it stepped in, and AstraZeneca ($AZN) decided to spin out its early-stage efforts in Massachusetts into a small startup--Entasis--after failing to find a buyer for the whole operation. That mixed approach to development has left a number of programs on the shelves, which gives startups like Iterum a chance to snag one for a freshly invigorated effort.

- here's the release