(Reuters) - An infectious disease expert and former head
dealmaker at Merck & Co is racing against his
ex-employer and other drugmakers to develop a treatment
for a germ that ravages the colon and kills as many as
14,000 Americans each year.
Roger Pomerantz on Monday became chief executive officer of
privately held Seres Health, whose lead product has proven highly
effective against the c. difficile bacteria in early-stage clinical
The condition occurs in patients who have been treated with
broad-spectrum antibiotics that kill off "friendly" bacteria in the
gut, allowing c. difficile to take root and prosper there. It causes
colitis, including serious diarrhea and fever that can recur and are
not well-controlled by current treatments.
The infections, which are most dangerous for the elderly and others
with weakened immune systems, typically occur in hospitals, nursing
homes and doctor's offices, but are becoming more common in the
community at large.
Some industry analysts have said effective treatments against c.
difficile could have blockbuster sales potential.
The Seres oral capsule, called SER 109, in early clinical trials
quickly eliminated symptoms in more than 90 percent of patients,
Pomerantz said in a telephone interview. All patients previously had
multiple recurrences of c. difficile after standard antibiotic
treatments such as vancomycin and metronidazole.
Rather than killing c. difficile, SER 109, which contains spores
from bacteria initially harvested from human stool, restores balance
to the microbiome, where millions of types of bacteria interact in
the colon, Pomerantz said.
"There's no ick factor," he said. "There's no stool in our capsules,
just (bacterial) spores" that have been replicated countless times
on laboratory dishes, refined and purified.
Mid-stage trials of SER 109 involve about 40 patients and are being
conducted at numerous centers, including the Mayo Clinic and
Massachusetts General Hospital. They should be completed in the next
six weeks, after which Seres aims to conduct late-stage studies,
"We have multiple large pharmaceutical companies interested in our
company," Pomerantz said, but he would not comment about any
possible licensing plans.
Merck's injectable treatment, called MK-3415A, is a combination of
two monoclonal antibodies that do not target c. difficile itself but
instead block toxins produced by the germ. It is now in late-stage
Pomerantz, who once headed infectious disease research for Johnson &
Johnson, joined Merck in 2010 in a similar capacity. Soon afterward
he took charge of business development, overseeing licensing deals
But he left Merck last summer after an executive reshuffling and in
November became chairman of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Seres, a
role he retains.
Pomerantz said SER 109 and other Seres products also could treat
diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome, diseases the microbiome is
believed to affect.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)