AstraZeneca adds a combo research pact to a flurry of new antibiotics deals

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

When AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot unveiled the company's new R&D strategy a little less than a year ago, the antibiotics research field was downgraded in the revamp--part of a general retreat by the industry as superbugs presented an ever-growing threat around the world. But the pharma heavyweight didn't abandon antibiotics.

Today the global company ($AZN) says it has inked a new licensing/option deal with FOB Synthesis, a discovery outfit based in Kennesaw, GA, covering possible combinations of their experimental compounds into more powerful antibiotics that might be used to fight drug-resistant bacterial infections.

In the deal AstraZeneca will combine its preclinical beta lactamase inhibitor with FSI-1671 and FSI-1686, both carbapenem antibiotics. Beta-lactamases are enzymes which are produced by bacteria and cause drug resistance and some of the gram-negative superbugs have become carbapenem resistant. No financial details were disclosed in the announcement.

AstraZeneca, like Roche's ($RHHBY) pRED organization, has been working to develop a more practical approach to antibiotics research--a field that was abandoned by many of the biggest players after their profit margins on antibiotics were narrowed. R&D groups have been coming up with more targeted anti-infectives while calling for more lucrative reimbursement policies on badly needed therapies. And that approach has been combined with more antibiotics deals like the one with FOB.

At Roche's Basel-based pRED organization, researchers recently heralded their return to the arena with a $560 million deal to license a program from Polyphor, while Genentech struck a collaboration deal with RQx Pharmaceuticals in La Jolla, CA near the beginning of 2013. As a recent trend story in The Wall Street Journal notes, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Novartis ($NVS) are also working in the field, while Eli Lilly ($LLY), Pfizer ($PFE), J&J ($JNJ) and Sanofi ($SNY) are out.

"The low-hanging fruit of antibiotics that were easy to discover has been picked," Brad Spellberg, an expert at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, tells the Journal.

So some groups are reaching higher.

- here's the release 
- read the story from The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)