Harvard antibiotics spinout gets $22M in A-lister cash and Big Pharma's attention

Andrew Myers

Harvard chemistry professor Andrew Myers says he's made a breakthrough that can greatly expand a class of antibiotics, forming the foundation for his latest startup: Macrolide Pharmaceuticals. And the biotech is launching today with $22 million in venture cash from an impressive group of venture backers, with three Big Pharmas in the VC mix and some early shots at a possible early-stage marquee deal.

Once again, Myers has teamed up with Lawrence Miller for the startup. Back in 2006 the two also launched Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals ($TTPH), an antibacterial company that's been working with a tetracycline platform and recently heralded the success of a Phase III study.

Novartis Venture Fund, Gurnet Point Capital, Roche Ventures, and SROne (GlaxoSmithKline) all came in on the A round after Harvard's tech office struck a deal to outlicense the technology, the latest in a flurry of pacts that has focused fresh attention on developing antibiotics.

Macrolides are a class of antibiotics which bind to ribosomes in bacteria, inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis and stopping an attack. But unable to synthesize most macrolides, researchers have been limited in developing them. Myers, though, says he's found the key to developing a full pipeline of them.

Myers' breakthrough in synthesizing macrolides--constructing them out of "basic industrial chemicals," says Miller--leaves the company at an early stage of development with a two- to three-year march to the clinic. But Miller adds that Myers has already synthesized more than 200 macrolides, and with three Big Pharma venture groups behind them, they've already been approached by a couple of large pharmas interested in striking a preclinical collaboration.

"We're pleased by who's shown interest," says Miller. Now the CEO says the company will take the next two or three months to evaluate whether they should go ahead and strike a collaboration deal now or wait until they have more information about how this expanded class of antibiotics works. In the meantime, Miller says he's also hiring as fast as he can, building a team around the three staffers currently on board.

The Big Pharma interest in the A round underscores a resurgence in the field. As Miller notes, when he and Myers started Tetraphase in 2006, there was little industry interest in antibiotics, which had been largely marginalized. Now, though, Roche ($RHHBY) and others have been keen to grow in the field, seeing fresh prospects as the U.S. adds fresh incentives for developers.

- here's the release