Company to Watch – Venatorx Pharmaceuticals
For more than ten years, Venatorx Pharmaceuticals has used its medicinal chemistry chops to develop a robust pipeline of novel anti-infectives that address multi-drug resistant bacterial infections — superbugs that could become the next pandemic — and hard-to-treat viral infections. We continue to explore the company’s pipeline in this next segment on Penicillin Binding Protein Inhibitors.
by Marie Daghlian
Beta-lactams, like penicillin, are the most widely prescribed class of antibiotics and kill bacteria by hitting a biological target inside the bacteria. Still, since the discovery of penicillin over 90 years ago, no one has been able to bring to market a molecule that hits the target of penicillin without sharing its conserved beta-lactam chemical structure, a structure to which bacteria have recently evolved resistance.
“By definition, all beta-lactam antibiotics share a 4-membered molecular ring,” says Tony Meehan, Ph.D., Chief Business Officer at Venatorx. “This is the key active part of the molecule, but it’s also the part that gets clipped and inactivated by evolving waves of bacterial resistance enzymes called beta-lactamases, which is exactly what has been taking place for nearly 80 years.”
Dr. Meehan adds that Venatorx is developing a new chemical class that still engages with the penicillin target but doesn’t share its 4-membered ring. These novel compounds act like beta-lactams — blocking cell wall synthesis via binding to the bacterial penicillin binding proteins (PBPs) — but because they don’t contain penicillin’s Achilles heel, they are impervious to resistance generating beta-lactamase enzymes. By circumventing over 80 years of beta-lactamase-driven resistance, this new class of PBP Inhibitors has the potential to usher in a new wave of antibacterial therapeutics targeting multi-drug resistant bacteria.
Venatorx has a number of programs in the works for its PBP inhibitor program, targeting gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli, Pseudomonas, and N. gonorrhoeae. These programs are all in the discovery phase, but some are close to selecting a lead candidate for clinical development.
These programs are backed by significant contracts with U.S. government agencies, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), and CARB-X.
Dr. Meehan thanks these governmental and non-governmental benefactors for supporting these programs.
This is part of the Big4Bio Company to Watch program for May 2021: Venatorx Pharmaceuticals.
For more information on the series, click here.