* GSK to get up to $200 mln over five years under BARDA deal
* Incentive for antibiotic R&D at time of rising resistance
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, May 22 The U.S. government has signed an
antibiotics development deal worth up to $200 million with
GlaxoSmithKline to tackle the dual threats of drug
resistance and bioterrorism.
The collaboration, the first of its kind between Washington
and a drug company, will allow funding to move around GSK's
antibiotics portfolio rather than focusing on a single drug
The rise of antibiotic resistance is causing alarm among
governments worldwide, leading to warnings from officials such
as England's chief medical officer Sally Davies that the issue
is a "ticking time bomb" threatening public health.
Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, recently called for an urgent fight-back
against "nightmare bacteria".
At the same time, there is concern about the potential
threat from terrorists who might use infectious agents such as
anthrax and plague as bioweapons.
The collaboration between GSK and the Biomedical Advanced
Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, will study potential
new drugs to treat conventional pathogens and those that could
be developed into weapons.
Britain's biggest drugmaker said on Wednesday it would
receive $40 million for an initial 18 months and up to a total
of $200 million if the agreement is renewed over five years.
The problem of antibiotic resistance and the rise of
so-called "superbugs" that cannot be treated with traditional
medicines has been growing for years, but drug companies have
been reluctant to invest in new medicines because of poor
Patients tend to take antibiotics for only a short period,
prices are traditionally low and any new antibiotics are likely
to be reserved for serious infections - once again minimising
the sales opportunity.
David Payne, head of GSK's antibacterial discovery unit,
said public-private partnerships, like the one with BARDA, were
a key part to solving the problem.
GSK is one of relatively few large pharmaceutical companies
still pursuing research into new antibiotics - but its
scientists still have to put forward a viable business case
internally for their research.
The financial support from BARDA is therefore a big help and
will mean that experimental compounds are developed faster than
would otherwise have been the case.
"This is a significant step forward because it enables us to
share the cost of developing antibacterials," Payne said in an
The compounds covered by the BARDA deal are still in initial
Phase I testing, which means it will be several years before
they are approved for use - assuming they succeed in later
A joint oversight committee, including representatives of
both BARDA and GSK, will monitor progress of the experimental
medicines, make decisions on allocating funds and decide whether
compounds should be added or removed from the programme.
GSK, along with other drugmakers, already has separate
contracts with BARDA for other specific drugs and vaccines.
The decision to adopt a "portfolio approach" this time,
however, makes the arrangement much more flexible, since it
means work can move swiftly to other molecules if a particular
drug candidate fails in tests, as often happens.
"It reflects the reality of what goes on in drug discovery
... you want to be able to easily move money from one molecule
to another," Payne said.