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Roche Returns to Antibiotics with Polyphor Deal

Authored by James Sheppard

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche signalled its return to the antibiotics market with its $560m deal for the rights to Swiss biotech Polyphor’s experimental antibiotic. The deal will see Polyphor receive $40m upfront and a further $520m in milestone payments.

Roche last worked in the antibiotics field in 1999, thereafter retreating from the field, as did many other big pharma companies. However, recent media reports have stated that this may well not be Roche’s only deal in the antibiotics space. John Reed, Head of Pharma Research & Development for Roche indicated that Roche would be looking at deals for antibiotics that could fight bacteria found in hospitals, where antibiotics offer a more attractive proposition for developers.

The Polyphor deal will see Roche focused on continued development of POL7080, which is currently in phase II clinical trials for infections spurred by hospital-acquired Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Pseudomonas aeruginosa accounts for one in every 10 hospital-acquired infections in the US and is listed as one of the six most dangerous drug-resistant microbes. POL7080 is a macrocycle which is a new class of synthetically engineered ring shaped drugs, larger than traditional small molecules. Macrocycles have demonstrated higher potency than the large molecule biologics.

Janet Hammond, Head of Infectious Diseases Discovery and Translational area in Roche’s pRED said, ‘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.’

Roche are not the only big pharma company looking to capitalise on recent advances in antibiotics. AstraZeneca has also signalled its intentions in the field by signing a research agreement with three Singaporean research groups A*STAR, ETC and ETPL to collaborate on reversing the global rise of antibiotic resistance. The deal is to advance the development of new drugs to treat Gram-negative bacterial infections, which are believed to cause two thirds of all hospital acquired infection deaths.

Tom Frieden, Director of the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), recently said that the pipeline for novel antibiotics was almost empty and we would soon be in a post-antibiotic era with huge consequences for global health. Antibiotics resistance is a considerable issue and one the global healthcare industry needs to move fast to prevent further problems. This once unattractive and unprofitable area of research has hit a crucial juncture and the return of big pharma, such as Roche and AstraZeneca, could well be the push that this field desperately needs.

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