UPDATED: Patriots owner Kraft teams up on a $30M antibiotics round for Spero

Spero CEO Ankit Mahadevia

Atlas Venture's antibiotics upstart Spero Therapeutics has rounded up a $30 million A round, banking enough cash from the likes of Merck and the owner of the New England Patriots to steer its in-house pipeline to the clinic with some in-licensed technology while shepherding its Roche-partnered program through an IND.

Cambridge, MA-based Spero is one of several biotechs which have been angling to benefit from Big Pharma's renewed interest in antibiotics along with some new government incentives aimed at fostering some fresh innovation in the field--badly needed after a lengthy drought of new R&D projects.

Robert Kraft

That upturn helped attract Europe's Lundbeckfond Ventures into the fold. Lundbeckfond led the round, while Merck Research Ventures and The Kraft Group--which is run by Robert Kraft and owns the New England Patriots--also stepped in as new investors. Founding investors Atlas, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) SR One and Partners Innovation Fund also came back to support the Series B.

Spero, a 2014 Fierce 15 company, got started with a collaboration with Roche ($RHHBY). Spero's founding CEO Ankit Mahadevia says that that project is proceeding on schedule, with plans to get into the clinic in 2017. Spero also recently in-licensed new "potentiator" technology aimed at greatly expanding the reach of existing antibiotics that is closer to human studies.

Antibiotics are divided between gram-negative and gram-positive bacterial groups. But Mahadevia tells FierceBiotech that the new tech targets the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria. In combination with a gram-positive antibiotic, such as macrolides, the potentiator gains access to the gram-negative bacteria, potentially giving anti-infectives a big new role to play.

"We brought it in in the middle of last year," says Mahadevia, "and now the data is just spectacular." The technology opens the door to a new way to "treat really sick people," he adds, "all the nasty ones that seem to affect patients in hospital."

The CEO sees some antibiotic programs targeting very specific patient populations, making them look a lot more like orphan populations and making them a more tempting target for a biotech like Spero, which is growing fast and now on the lookout for a new facility in Cambridge. "Anti-infectives," he says, "are converging with orphans."

That's also a big issue for companies like Roche, which has been upping its involvement in the field with an eye to developing new antibiotics for a hospital setting, a key market niche that could offer developers a better upside. Merck ($MRK) has been increasing its bets in antibiotics as well, buying Cubist recently for $8.4 billion.

"In a very short period of time, Spero has made significant progress with their strategy to leverage dramatic changes in the field of anti-infectives and create novel therapies to combat severe infections. Spero has also assembled a highly experienced scientific team that can sustainably and synergistically work across different mechanisms and with multiple collaborators," said Casper Breum, a partner at Lundbeckfond Ventures.

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Spero Therapeutics