GlaxoSmithKline wins up to $200M federal contract to develop new antibiotics

In the first collaboration of its kind, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has brought on GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to help the federal agency develop new antibiotics to combat bioterrorism and growing resistance to the drugs.

Under the terms of the agreement, GlaxoSmithKline will receive $40 million for an initial 18-month period and up to a total of $200 million if BARDA renews the contract over 5 years. GSK said the public-private agreement will expand the company's bacterial portfolio, allowing the drug giant to study several agents at a time for the potential treatment of both conventional and biothreat pathogens. The collaboration also marks the first time HHS has taken a portfolio approach to funding drug development with a private-sector partner. 

"There is an urgent need to address antibiotic resistance and new models are needed to deal with this challenging area of drug development," David Payne, head of GSK's Antibacterial Discovery Performance Unit, said in a statement.

The newfound partnership is an indication that the federal government has made antibiotic resistance a top priority and comes after an April report released by the Infectious Disease Society of America found a dearth of antibiotics currently in development. Coupled with R&D cuts in Big Pharma, especially in the antibacterial field due to scientific challenges and a lower return on investment, it's expected that drug-resistant bacterial infections could become a global crisis.

The deal also comes on the heels of a public warning issued in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the rise of the deadly carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, which spreads in healthcare facilities and is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

Glaxo is one of the few Big Pharma players that hasn't yet pulled out of the antibiotics arena. It had been working on its GSK 052 inhibitor, previously AN3365 from Anacor Pharmaceuticals ($ANAC), which targets the bacterial enzyme leucyl-tRNA synthetase, required for protein synthesis. The antibiotic was meant to fight a number of bacteria strains, but Phase II studies were halted in February 2012 and GSK discontinued development in October last year.

- read the press release
- here's Reuters' take

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