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(Reuters) - Roche ROG.VX is buying U.S. diagnostics firm GeneWEAVE BioSciences for up to $425 million, expanding the Swiss group's commitment to fighting so-called "superbugs" as the threat from drug-resistant microbes grows.
Roche said on Thursday it would pay shareholders in the privately held Californian company $190 million upfront and up to a further $235 million depending on the future success of its products.
The deal gives Roche access to GeneWEAVE's "Smarticles" technology, which allows for the rapid identification of multi drug-resistant organisms direct from clinical samples, without the need for traditional preparation processes.
Better testing is seen as central to fighting drug-resistant bacteria. It should allow doctors to make faster and more accurate diagnoses and give patients the appropriate drug to kill their particular infection.
Many antibiotics used today are broad spectrum products, which can kill a wide range of bugs but are also responsible for breeding resistance because they damage gut flora, creating an environment for new infections to flourish.
Roche has been building up its presence in antibacterial research since buying Switzerland's Polyphor, a developer of new medicines for resistant bacteria, in November 2013.
Although Roche pioneered some of the more modern antibiotics, like many large drugmakers it wound down its research at the end of the 1990s, given the poor returns in the field compared to other therapy areas such as cancer.
Several large pharmaceutical companies are looking again at antibiotics, given increased emphasis by governments on the resistance problem, with Merck (MRK.N) agreeing a major deal to buy Cubist for more than $8 billion in December 2014.
Reporting by Ben Hirschler. Editing by Jane Merriman