Forge Therapeutics Raises $15M to Take on Drug-Resistant Superbugs

Xconomy San Diego — 

One reason that drug-resistant “superbugs” are a growing healthcare problem is the hardiness of gram-negative bacteria, a type of bacteria whose characteristics render many antibiotics ineffective. Forge Therapeutics says it has found a way to target an enzyme found only in these bacteria, and potentially take them out. Now, the biotech firm is preparing to bring that technology into clinical trials.

San Diego-based Forge says it has raised $15 million to support its efforts. MagnaSci Ventures, a Houston-based investment fund focused on early-stage life science companies, led the Series A round of financing. Other participants in the round included Evotec AG; Alexandria Venture Investments, the venture capital arm of Alexandria Real Estate Equities (NYSE: ARE; MP Healthcare Venture Management; Red Apple Group; and WS Investments. Separately, Forge also has financial support from the public-private CARB-X initiative, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Examples of gram-negative bacteria include Escherichia coli and Klebsiella. The cellular walls of these bacteria have a tough outer membrane that help them resist antibiotics. Forge’s approach focuses on LpxC, an enzyme found only in gram-negative bacteria that these bugs need to maintain this outer cellular wall. While antibiotics researchers have focused on this enzyme as a promising target for years, they have also had trouble finding compounds that can block it. Forge says that it has discovered novel molecules that can inhibit LpxC. The company says that its inhibitors were safe and effective in animal tests, showing the ability to kill gram-negative bacteria that resisted treatment from other antibiotics. Forge says the new funding will allow the company to test the compounds in humans.

Forge isn’t the only company developing LpxC inhibitors. South San Francisco-based Achaogen (NASDAQ: AKAO, for example, is in preclinical development of LpxC inhibitors under a contract with the NIAID.

Other companies have made progress on antibiotics developed to address drug resistance. Earlier this month, San Diego-based Zavante Therapeutics reported clinical trial results showing that its intravenous formulation of the drug fosfomycin worked comparably to a combination of antibiotics currently used to treat urinary tract infections.

Meanwhile, Paratek Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: PRTK) is planning to file for FDA approval of its antibiotic, omadacycline, in 2018. Earlier this month, the Boston company reported that the drug hit its main goal in a pneumonia study, which came nearly a year after a successful clinical trial testing the antibiotic in patients with complicated skin infections that resist treatment from antimicrobials. Paratek has said that as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, its drug could also work on gram-negative bacteria.

Photo by Flickr user Anthony D’Onofrio via a Creative Commons license.