Defense Department Commits $16 Million to Fight Bacterial Bioweapons

Scaled funding finances discovery and development of first-in-class biodefense antibiotics. 

In an effort to create front-line defenses against emerging drug-resistant bacterial bioweapons, the Department of Defense’ Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded VenatoRx Pharmaceuticals up to $16 million in potential funding to support the discovery and preclinical development of first-in-class antibiotics for biodefense applications.

According to VenatoRx, which is a privately held company, the DTRA project derives from their proprietary platform of non-beta-lactam penicillin binding protein inhibitors (PBPIs). Beta-lactamase enzymes are expressed by bacteria and provide an efficient means to inactivate common beta-lactam antibiotics such as penicillin.

Citing that currently more than 2,000 beta-lactamase enzymes have been identified, VenatoRx’s Co-founder and Senior VP of Biology, Daniel Pevear, noted “A non-beta-lactam class of antibiotics would circumvent more than 70 years of clinical bacterial resistance and represents a powerful countermeasure for first-line treatment of infections caused by potential drug-resistant bacterial bioweapons, including Burkholderia spp., Yersinia pestis, and Francisella tularensis.”

Founded in 2010, the company has focused on the discovery and development of novel therapies for highly drug-resistant bacterial infections. Its lead clinical program combines VNRX-5133, a novel, broad-spectrum β-lactamase inhibitor, with a market-available β-lactam antibiotic.

The project is supported by DTRA under Contract No. HDTRA117C0070. Under the project’s terms, the award provides up to $5.1 million during an initial base period and up to $16 million to fund continued development of promising candidates. “We are very pleased and grateful to DTRA for their support and validation of this ground-breaking program,” said Christopher Burns, Co-founder, and VenatoRx’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Bacterial drug resistance is a critical health issue and innovative new classes of antibiotics are urgently needed,” he noted.


Steve Kuehn

Steve offers the life science industry insight and perspective from his more than 30 years of editorial, corporate and agency communications experience. Drawing from tenure as a lead communicator and media relations director for one of world’s largest technology and engineering companies, as well the editorial leadership of industry-leading B2B journals serving the energy, transportation and pharmaceutical sectors, including Pharmaceutical Manufacturing magazine, Steve delivers brand strategy, market-moving content and decision support. Steve holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio University.