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Qpex Biopharma Launches with $33M to Tackle Drug-Resistant Infections

Xconomy San Diego — 

The Medicines Company exited the infectious disease business last year when it sold three bacteria-fighting products to Melinta Therapeutics. But Melinta didn’t get all of the company’s bug-fighting drugs, and what’s left has become a new company—Qpex Biopharma.

San Diego-based Qpex has raised $33 million to advance The Medicines Company’s (NASDAQ: MDCO) old preclinical compounds toward human testing. New Enterprise Associates led the Series A round.

Qpex is led by Michael Dudley, the former chief scientific officer of The Medicines Company. He had joined the Parsippany, NJ, drug maker when it bought Rempex Pharmaceuticals in 2014. That company was developing a drug that blocks beta lactamase, an enzyme that bacteria use to resist antibiotics.

Under The Medicines Company, the former Rempex team went on to develop the combination drug meropenem and vaborbactam (Vabomere), which won FDA approval last year for treating complicated urinary tract infections. The drug pairs the antibiotic meropenem with vaborbactam, a beta lactamase inhibitor. Vabomere is one of the three drugs that The Medicines Company sold to Melinta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MLNT) last year. Dudley, QPex’s president and CEO, says its FDA approval validates the approach his new company is taking to fighting drug-resistant infections.

Rather than develop new antibiotics, Qpex is developing new beta lactamase-blocking drugs that could be combined with proven antibiotics. Beta lactamase inhibitors are already commercially available. One example is Augmentin, which combines the beta lactamase-blocking compound clavulanate with the antibiotic amoxicillin. It’s commonly prescribed to treat inner ear infections. But Dudley says there are more opportunities for these types of drug combinations.

“The older products don’t address the emerging resistance of superbugs,” he says.

Qpex is developing drugs that could treat gram negative infections, which are caused by bacteria that have a tough cellular wall that helps them resist antibiotics. Gram-negative infections have afflicted transplant patients and others who have weakened immune systems. Qpex aims to develop drugs or multiple infections and plans to develop both intravenous versions for use in hospitals and pills that patients could take at home.

Large pharmaceutical companies have been abandoning antibiotics and shifting their focus elsewhere, such as cancer. But Qpex joins a number of smaller biotechs trying to pick up the slack and develop treatments for the superbug threat, like Cambridge, MA-based Spero Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SPRO), South San Francisco, CA-based Achaoegen (NASDAQ: AKAO), and Macrolide Pharmaceuticals of Watertown, MA.

Melinta paid $270 million in cash and stock to acquire The Medicine Company’s infectious disease drugs. Dudley declined to say how much Qpex paid to acquire his former company’s preclinical anti-infective compounds, only noting that the Series A financing and acquisition closed simultaneously. The Medicines Company doesn’t have any remaining rights to the drugs and didn’t acquire any Qpex stock in the deal, Dudley says.

Beyond the Series A investment, Qpex has additional cash to work with. An antibiotics research partnership that The Medicines Company had with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) now transfers to Qpex. The initial $32 million in funding from BARDA could be extended to up to $100 million and will help Qpex offset its R&D costs. Dudley wouldn’t say when he expects the company’s compounds to begin human trials.

Other investors in Qpex’s financing include Adams Street Partners, LYZZ Capital, Hatteras Venture Partners, and Stanford University Draper Fund.

Image of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria by Flickr user NIAID via a Creative Commons license