Roche heralds its return to the antibiotics field with $560M Polyphor deal

With healthcare officials around the world ringing alarm bells over a weak global pipeline of antibiotics, Roche's ($RHHBY) pRED group is making good on its promised return to the field with a $560 million development deal, partnering up with a Phase II program underway at Polyphor.

In the deal, Switzerland's Polyphor--which has been advancing a new group of treatments using macrocycle technology--gets a $40 million upfront and up to $520 million for a range of milestones covering development and commercialization work. Polyphor also stands to receive a double-digit royalty stream.

Roche abandoned antibiotics back in 1999 as Big Pharma was beginning its retreat from an R&D arena that became known as a market loser for big players. The exodus included a number of exits and restructurings over the years, including Pfizer's ($PFE) decision to shut down its infectious diseases unit in Groton, CT, in 2011 and ship the research work to China. But John Reed, Roche's new head of the Basel-based pRED group, signaled to FierceBiotech recently that the pharma giant was interested in striking new deals for antibiotics that could fight bacteria found in hospitals, where antibiotics offered a more attractive proposition for developers.

Roche's return to antibiotics is focused on POL7080, a Phase II antibiotic that fights infections spurred by hospital-acquired Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Polyphor has been working on macrocycles, a new class of synthetically engineered ring-shaped drugs which are larger than traditional small molecules, with more of the potency found in large-molecule biologics. Ensemble Therapeutics, for example, has been building a library of macrocycles that can address protein-protein and protein-peptide interactions.

"As the incidence of drug-resistant infections is creating an urgent demand for new therapeutic options, we look forward to adding this potentially important, targeted agent with a novel mechanism of action to our portfolio of innovative medicines," noted Janet Hammond, head of infectious diseases discovery and translational area in Roche's pRED.

Roche's R&D arm is divided between pRED and gRED, which encompasses Genentech's work. Roche's pRED has undergone a major restructuring capped with the closure of its old R&D campus in Nutley, NJ, and the creation of a new unit in Manhattan. 

- here's the press release