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AstraZeneca Will Spin Off Antibiotics

Drug Discovery: Stand-alone company to be formed after no buyers emerge for business

by Lisa M. Jarvis
February 27, 2015

After failing to find a buyer or partner for its small-molecule anti-infectives R&D activities, AstraZeneca is spinning off the unit into a stand-alone company. The new firm will be outfitted with $40 million and early-stage assets.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer, Pascal Soriot, said last year that he would explore alternatives for the firm’s antibiotics unit as it narrowed the focus of its internal R&D to three areas: oncology, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and respiratory and inflammation therapies.

Some of the roughly 95 employees in Waltham, Mass., who are affected by the decision are expected to shift to the new company. Others could move elsewhere within AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca will retain marketed antibiotics, its late-stage small-molecule anti-infectives, and the biologic anti-infectives being developed by its subsidiary MedImmune. The firm’s plan is to continue seeking partners for late-stage small-molecule products—such as CAZ-AVI, which combines the cephalosporin ceftazidime with the non-β-lactam β-lactamase inhibitor avibactam—while it pushes them toward commercialization.

The new company’s pipeline will include the gyrase inhibitor AZD0914, discovered in-house and currently in Phase II studies to treat gonorrhea. Although AstraZeneca declined to provide specifics, it said the yet-to-be-named new firm is expected “to be led by and include” current staff. According to an AstraZeneca spokesperson, the new company should be fully operational by early May.

AstraZeneca’s exit from antibiotics comes as several other big pharma firms are reentering or strengthening their position in the area. In December, Merck & Co. agreed to pay $9.5 billion to acquire Cubist Pharmaceuticals, a biotech devoted to developing anti-infectives. And in the past two years, Roche has grown its early-stage antibiotics pipeline through partnerships with several companies, including Polyphor, Discuva, Spero Therapeutics, and Meiji Seika Pharma.


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