* TB Alliance to fund development of Novartis TB drugs
* Disease affects 8.6 mln people a year worldwide - WHO
* Novartis move adds to Big Pharma retreat from antibiotics
(Adds detail, analyst, Novartis comment)
By Caroline Copley
ZURICH, Aug 20 Novartis has signed a
licensing deal to hand over its experimental tuberculosis (TB)
drugs to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, joining a
growing Big Pharma retreat from antibiotics.
The TB Alliance deal reflects renewed scrutiny of the
Novartis portfolio under new chairman Joerg Reinhardt, who is
focusing the Swiss company's research on core areas such as
cancer, respiratory drugs, heart failure and dermatology.
While scientists are exploring novel avenues in the hunt for
urgently needed new bacteria-fighting medicines, many companies
now have little appetite for the chase, preferring to
concentrate on more lucrative areas such as cancer and diabetes.
"Novartis is not really focused on anti-infectives, so I
think it makes sense," Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Fabian Wenner
said of the licensing deal.
Under the terms of Wednesday's agreement, TB Alliance will
fund further research and development and be responsible for
seeking approval and commercialising the TB treatments
discovered at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease.
NO UPFRONT PAYMENT
"The goal of this agreement is to enable the programme to be
successful and bring needed medicines to patients," Novartis
said in an emailed statement, adding that it had not asked for
any upfront or milestone payments.
Among the drugs Novartis is licensing is a class of
medicines known as indolcarboxamides, which target drug
resistant and multi-resistant strains of TB. One of the
compounds, NITD304, works by blocking a protein that is
essential for the TB bacterium's survival.
"TB Alliance is well placed to take our discoveries and
compounds through development for the benefit of patients with
TB," said Mark Fishman, head of research at Novartis.
More than 8.6 million people fall sick with TB each year
leading to more than 1.3 million deaths, according to the World
The emergence of totally resistant forms of the lung
infection is posing a further challenge to healthcare systems,
particularly in developing countries.
Treating TB is a long process. Patients need to take a
cocktail of antibiotics for six months and many fail to complete
the treatment, which serves to fuel growing drug resistance.
Novartis said it would continue to pursue research and
development for specific anti-infectives, including treatments
for parasitic diseases such as malaria, as well as viral
diseases such as dengue fever.
(Editing by David Goodman)