Roche pays millions to U.K. biotech as it doubles down on antibiotics

Roche Vice President Janet Hammond

After largely abandoning the field back in 1999, Roche ($RHHBY) is diving back into antibiotics, teaming up with Cambridge, U.K.'s Discuva to discover and develop new treatments for deadly infections using the biotech's novel platform.

Under the deal, Roche will hand over $16 million up front to get the ball rolling on discovery, and Discuva is due up to $175 million per resultant drug depending on development and commercialization milestones, plus royalties on future sales. In the meantime, Roche's pRED group will make use of Discuva's development technology--which uses gene sequencing and bioinformatics to identify targets for multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria--to suss out some promising candidates.

Like much of Big Pharma, Roche gradually lost interest in antibiotics years ago thanks to diminishing returns. But, considering the of-late escalation in hospital-acquired infections around the world and an alarmingly sparse pipeline across the industry, the drugmaker is splashing back into the space with multiple deals and development programs.

"Multi-drug resistant bacteria have become a genuine threat to public health worldwide," pRED infectious disease chief Janet Hammond said in a statement. "We are pleased to be collaborating with the very experienced team at Discuva and are looking forward to using their unique technology platform to accelerate our efforts in antibiotic discovery and bringing antibiotic drug candidates forward quickly to help patients in need."

The Discuva deal comes on the heels of a tie-up with Switzerland's Polyphor worth up to $560 million. Under that agreement, Roche gets its hands on the Phase II POL7080, an antibiotic designed to fight infections spurred by hospital-acquired Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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