Inspired by $220M in BARDA funding, AstraZeneca steps up antibiotics R&D

Close to 18 months after AstraZeneca ($AZN) decided to jettison its early-stage anti-infectives division and the 180 staffers that were then working in the Massachusetts-based group, the pharma giant is stepping back up in the field, with the feds footing up to $220 million in research costs to hunt down new antibiotics.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will kick in $50 million to get the public/private collaboration underway, with another $170 million available over the next 5 years. During that time AstraZeneca will work up a new portfolio of antibiotics, starting with new studies of a combination of Aztreonam and Avibactam, which is also being backed by the EU.

BARDA has some big plans for antibiotics. The release notes that the agency is looking to hatch another biotech collaboration on antibiotics in hopes of getting more biopharma companies back in a field that had been long neglected in the industry.

"We have a perfect storm forming with a rise in antibiotic resistant infections at a time when most pharmaceutical companies have decreased or halted investment in antibacterial R&D," BARDA Director Robin Robinson explained. "We're using our experience in public-private partnerships and unique legislative authority to rejuvenate the interest of pharmaceutical companies in developing such products."

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot decided early in his tenure at the company that the turnaround plan would not include early-stage antibiotics work, though late-stage projects were retained. The company then went about trying to find a company to in-license the work underway in Waltham, MA, as first reported in FierceBiotech, before opting to fund a spinout with a small group of survivors. That company, Entasis, was formally launched at the beginning of July.

AstraZeneca isn't the only big pharma to get back into the antibiotics game. Merck ($MRK) and Roche ($RHHBY) have both been stepping up with new programs and deals as the health system continues to beg for new antibiotics that can counter the lethal drug-resistant bacterial strains now threatening people around the globe.

- here's the release