Roche Holding AG has agreed to a payment of 500 million Swiss francs ($548 million) for the rights to an experimental antibiotic to target a drug-resistant ''superbug'' that had emerged as a leading cause of fatal bacterial infections in hospitals.
Polyphor Ltd, the Allschwil, Switzerland-based developer of the antibiotic, will receive 35 million francs up front, and will b e eligible for further payments of as much as 465 million francs in the event of the drug meeting development, regulatory and commercial goals, according to an e-mailed statement the company issued today.
The company would additionally pay royalties on sales, according to the Basel, Switzerland-based company.
The treatment, known as POL7080, targets Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that was the cause of one in 10 hospital-acquired infections in the US, according to figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited by Roche.
EU statistics reveal that bacteria were increasingly growing resistant to antibiotics, leading to 25,000 deaths a year in the EU alone according to EU statistics.
According to Janet Hammond, a Roche executive who exercised oversight over the discovery of drugs for infectious diseases, as the incidence of drug-resistant infections was creating an urgent demand for new therapeutic options, Roche looked forward to adding this potentially important, targeted agent with a novel mechanism of action to its portfolio of innovative medicines.
Reuters meanwhile reported that Roche's chief executive Severin Schwan had said last month that the company was interested in "bolt-on acquisitions".
According to the agency a company spokesman declined to confirm the report yesterday, saying the firm did not comment on rumours.
"We have an open and pragmatic approach to R&D and have mentioned in the past that antibiotics is an area where a lot of interesting science is going on," Roche spokesman Daniel Grotzky said in an emailed reply to a Reuters enquiry.
Allschwil, Switzerland-based Polyphor, said in March it had successfully completed a phase 1 clinical trial for its POL7080 drug, a pseudomonas specific antibiotic, which according to it had demonstrated outstanding efficacy against septicaemia, peritonitis and lung and thigh infection.
According to Polyphor, POL7080 was the frontrunner in a novel class of antibiotics that could tackle bacteria that had grown resistant to other drugs.
The report added, drug-resistant "superbugs" were growing but were not yet widespread and pharmaceutical companies had cut back research into antibiotics since they were not likely to generate blockbuster profits.
Besides Roche, others that had cut back included Pfizer, once the leader in the field, which closed its antibiotic R&D center in Connecticut in 2011, as also Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly, leaving only a handful of firms such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Merck & Co in the field.