GlaxoSmithKline to head tuberculosis drug discovery initiative

WHO

As rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis rise across the globe, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is partnering with Switzerland's BioVersys and France's University of Lille to develop a new preclinical candidate against the airborne disease.

The move signals Big Pharma's reentry into the field at a time when other big names, like AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Pfizer ($PFE), have halted research on many infectious diseases. Earlier this year, AstraZeneca closed a research facility focused on tuberculosis, malaria and tropical diseases in India, and last year, Pfizer left the anti-infectives arena. Glaxo joins Otsuka and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen--which earned FDA approval in 2012 for its anti-TB drug Sirturo--as the only large industry players invested in developing new TB drugs.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the collaboration will employ BioVersys' Transcriptional Regulator Inhibitory Compounds technology to identify potential drugs and will advance molecules that build on the efficacy of already approved TB therapies, including the antibiotic ethionamide.

"Tuberculosis is an increasing threat to health with its highest prevalence in low-income countries. This collaboration enables us to continue our long-term commitment to treating diseases in these settings by supporting new drug technologies and aiding the development of effective therapies in an area of unmet medical need," said Richard Seabrook, head of business development at the Wellcome Trust, in a statement.

The World Health Organization notes that drug-resistant TB--which is unaffected by the most common antibiotics used to treat TB--is a major public health problem around the world.

The collaboration will bring in scientists from the University of Lille that were the first to discover the target regulator in TB.

The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.