Allergan links with AstraZeneca on new antibiotic treatment

By Ben Adams

As it prepares to be subsumed in the $160 billion merger deal with Pfizer ($PFE), Ireland's Allergan ($AGN) is not backing away from making deals. The company unveiled a three-way pact with AstraZeneca ($AZN) this morning to develop a new antibiotic with the help of a U.S. government agency.

The deal will see Allergan partner with AZ to develop and market ATM-AVI, an investigational, fixed-dose antibiotic combining aztreonam and avibactam.

Both companies hope the combo treatment will help stop serious infections caused by metallo-β-lactamase-producing Gram-negative pathogens. This is a difficult-to-treat subtype of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), for which there are currently limited treatments.

Under the terms of the agreement, Allergan will maintain commercialization rights in the U.S. and Canada while the Anglo-Swedish AZ will maintain commercialization rights in all other countries.

AZ is one of only a handful of big pharma companies still actively seeking to create new antibiotics, with Merck ($MRK), GSK ($GSK) and Roche ($RHHBY) the other major players.

Pharma has complained for many years that developing new antibiotics is not cost-effective for them as they typically do not get a return on investment, with many new antibiotics intentionally used sparingly and with a low price tag.

But the threat of microbial resistance--whereby bacteria are becoming impervious to older antibiotics, leaving humans potentially open to fatal infections that were once easily treatable--has seen global governments attempt new ways of working with pharma to help shore up a dwindling antibiotic pipeline.

The ATM-AVI drug is indicative of this new mindset, being the first candidate to be developed under a public-private partnership agreement between AZ and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)--a part of the U.S. Department of Health.

Announced in September 2015, the goal of this alliance is to develop a portfolio of drug candidates over the next 5 years with dual uses in treating illnesses caused by bioterrorism agents and antibiotic-resistant infections.

The EU's Innovative Medicines Initiative, a partnership between the EU and the European pharmaceutical industry, is currently supporting the Phase II clinical study of ATM-AVI in Europe under a project called COMBACTE-CARE.

It is now joining BARDA and AZ in supporting global Phase III clinical development before seeking regulatory approval for the treatment.

AZ's Hans Sijbesma

Hans Sijbesma, managing director of the Antibiotics Business Unit at AstraZeneca, said: "This collaboration represents an important milestone in the development of ATM-AVI. Antimicrobial resistance is a huge global health challenge, which is increasingly at the forefront of the public health agenda. We look forward to working with health authorities to help bring this much-needed new treatment option to patients."