AZ spins out antibiotics R&D biz to focus on key pipelines

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

Research at AstraZeneca's site in Boston, MA
Research at AstraZeneca's site in Boston, MA

Related tags Bacteria Pharmacology

AstraZeneca will spend $40m spinning out its antibiotics R&D business into a separate subsidiary, saying the move will let it focus on its core disease areas.

The stand-alone company will exclusively deal with early-stage antibiotics R&D, including the novel gyrase inhibitor AZD0914, currently in Phase II for the treatment of gonorrhoea.

95 jobs

The spin-out is likely to be led by staff from the company’s Innovative Medicines Unit. Carving out a separate business will affect 95 employees in Waltham, Massachussets. AstraZeneca said “some​” of the researchers will be offered jobs in the new subsidiary or in other parts of AstraZeneca.

The restructure “will provide greater flexibility for the future development of the early-stage small molecule anti-infectives pipeline,​” and will allow the company to “redploy resources” ​to its three main therapy areas: cardio metabolic diseases, oncology, and respiratory and inflammation, said AstraZeneca. 

The drugs giant owns several late-stage small molecule infection programmes, as well as MedImmune’s portfolio of biopharma anti-infectives. These will not be affected by the restructure, the company said. It also stressed that its on-the-market anti-infection drugs Merrem, Zinforo, Fluenz and Synagis will not be impacted.

AstraZeneca’s late-stage small molecule infection programmes, including AZ-AVI, will also continue as normal.  

Antibiotics cliff

Antibiotics research has sunk in popularity for pharma companies compared with immuno-oncology targets, largely because of low profitability. But new antibiotics are vitally needed as patients approach a potential “bacterial cliff​” with no recourse against multi-drug resistant diseases.

Experts have suggested overhauling the antibiotics discovery model. Easing submissions regulations and extending marketing exclusivity could encourage pharma companies to return to antibiotics research, the Professor of Pharmaceutical Innovation at King’s College, London, told

But Nobel prize-winning scientist Venki Ramakrishnan went even further in his advice to the World Economic Forum at Davos in January this year. Expecting pharmaceutical companies to develop antibiotics is a terrible business model,​”​ he told world leaders. Instead, he said, governments and NGOs should “do the groundwork, before commercialising it.​”

Not all institutions have lost interest in antibiotics discovery, however. Merck & Co. signed a deal to buy mid-sized Cubist Pharmaceuticals – with its large antibiotics portfolio – last December for $8.4bn, while a recent paper in Cell ​shows scientists have found a novel antibiotic among the human microbiome in the vagina.

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