Sector News

Whittled down to biotech size, AstraZeneca’s antibiotics crew starts over as Entasis

July 1, 2015
Life sciences
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot made it clear back in early 2014 that he planned to spin off a big chunk of the company’s anti-infectives pipeline along with the neuroscience side of R&D. And now more than a year later the pharma company has completed the task, hatcheting down a once large group of researchers and birthing a small biotech with its own pipeline of antibiotics and a core group of investigators.
 
Meet Entasis Therapeutics, which is staying put in Waltham, MA, with a crew of 21 staffers led by Manos Perros, the new CEO and former AstraZeneca site lead. Perros now plans to grow the group to about 30 by the end of the year, as they get closer to a readout on their Phase II data for the lead antibiotic for gonorrhea and start moving one of a group of preclinical programs toward a Phase I trial.
 
AstraZeneca tipped off FierceBiotech back in February that it had decided to sink $40 million into the new company to complete a spinout that would clip off its early stage anti-infectives effort. At the beginning of this lengthy shedding process in early 2014, the Waltham group had about 175 staffers, according to some former employees who watched it all play out. Initially, AstraZeneca shopped the group to about every company involved in antibiotics, looking for a deal closer to the outlicensing pact it struck with Eli Lilly on a BACE program for Alzheimer’s. No one stepped forward, though, leaving Soriot to play the role of startup financier to complete the spinout.
 
For Perros and his band of survivors, it’s an exciting new day, completing a shift from a large R&D group in one of the world’s biggest pharma companies to an entrepreneurial, and much smaller, biotech crew with a narrower focus and a simpler R&D agenda.
 
“We have a pipeline of products, we know what must be done and now it’s time to get on with it,” says the newly minted biotech CEO. “I think it’s a really exciting company.”
 
Entasis is going solo during a relatively upbeat time for antibiotics. Encouraged by new development incentives and the rise of drug-resistant infections around the world, Big Pharmas like Roche and Merck have been jumping back into the game after a lengthy absence of major players. And several new biotechs have emerged to fill the niche, looking to advance new products in the clinic.
 
To get going, Entasis (that’s Greek for intensity) brought in a few people with specialized skills, including Michael Fitzgerald as chief financial officer and Chris White as chief business officer. John Mueller, the new vice president for program management and early development, and Ruben Tommasi, the CSO, completed the transition from AstraZeneca with Perros.
 
The fledgling Entasis sets out with plans to explore potential partnerships for its programs, which are focused on Gram-negative bacteria. And they’ll be reaching out to the local venture community and the whole business ecosystem in the greater Boston biotech hub as they grow the company. Over time, they’ll make clear how they’ll develop their antibiotics, as Perros remains “agnostic” about which markets they’ll target.
 
By John Carroll
 

comments closed

Related News

May 21, 2022

As monkeypox cases emerge in US and Europe, Bavarian Nordic inks vaccine order

Life sciences

A monkeypox outbreak is emerging in the U.S. and Europe, and at least one country is amping up countermeasure preparedness. Bavarian Nordic has secured a contract with an unnamed European country to supply its smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in Europe, in response to the emergence of monkeypox cases, the Danish company said Thursday.

May 21, 2022

Moderna chairman Afeyan defends hiring practices after CFO debacle: report

Life sciences

Moderna’s recent chief financial officer debacle—in which Jorge Gomez departed on his second day on the job—raised questions about the company’s hiring process given its rush to global biopharma prominence. The most obvious one: How was it possible for Gomez to be hired when he was under investigation by his previous employer, Dentsply Sirona of Charlotte, N.C.

May 21, 2022

Merck to pay up to $1.4B in cancer deal with Kelun, but details are scarce

Life sciences

Merck & Co. is plucking a cancer project from the branch of Chinese-based Kelun Pharmaceutical for up to $1.4 billion, but details from the New Jersey-based Big Pharma have been hard to come by. The deal, first disclosed Monday on the Shenzhen stock exchange, has Merck handing over $47 million in upfront cash in exchange for ex-China rights to a “macromolecular tumor project.”