UPDATED: Roche abandons a marquee antibiotics collaboration with Polyphor

Polyphor CEO Michael Altorfer

Two years ago, Roche ($RHHBY) stirred some renewed excitement in the antibiotics field when it signed on to partner with Switzerland's Polyphor on a midstage program, committing up to $560 million on a deal that heralded the pharma giant's return to the field. Today, though, Roche dropped out of the collaboration but promised to maintain its commitment to the antibiotics field.

Roche's deal with Polyphor focused on POL7080, a lead Phase II antibiotic that fights infections spurred by hospital-acquired Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

"The decision to discontinue our involvement in the clinical development of RG7929/POL7080 is based on our assessment of the current status and anticipated progress of the RG7929/POL7080 development program which came to the conclusion that a streamlined development path as originally planned is no longer an option for Roche," the company said in a statement sent to FierceBiotech. "Antimicrobial resistance represents a major threat to public health and Roche continues to focus on this area of high unmet medical need as part of our Infectious Disease R&D strategy."

Polyphor has been working on macrocycles, a new class of synthetically engineered ring-shaped drugs which are larger than traditional small molecules, boasting more of the potency found in large-molecule biologics. And the company tells FierceBiotech that it isn't giving up on POL7080 just because Roche has bowed out.

Polyphor is continuing, as planned, its ongoing open-label phase II PK study in ventilator-associated pneumonia with confirmed Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the company said in an e-mail to FierceBiotech. "In parallel, we are preparing for having discussions with regulatory authorities in the course of next year on the design and further details of a subsequent pivotal trial."

That was the first new antibiotics deal for Roche since it had dropped out of the field in 1999, joining a migration of Big Pharmas which had turned chilly to a class of therapies known for small margins. In recent years there has been a renewed interest in antibiotics, as the U.S. has added fresh incentives for developers looking to add badly needed products at a time of rising resistance to the currently available antibiotics in use. 

Roche pRED chief John Reed, who runs the European/Manhattan arm of the pharma giant's big research operations, has expressed some real enthusiasm for developing antibiotics that can be administered in a hospital setting, a niche where the rewards are greater for antibiotics.

Roche's decision to drop out marks a serious setback for Polyphor. Just last summer, Polyphor Chief Executive Officer Michael Altorfer--a Roche veteran--told Bloomberg that the company was reviewing a possible IPO, while featuring its pact with Roche as a prime example of its potential.