US awards GSK $200M to fight "superbugs"

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GlaxoSmithKline was awarded US government funding to develop new antibiotics to fight drug resistance and bioterrorism, Britain's largest drug maker said yesterday.

BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), an arm of the US Department of Health and Human Services, will provide GSK with $40 million for 18 months and up to $200 million over the next five years if the agreement is renewed.

News of their collaboration comes only two days after UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies spoke out about the need for international action against "superbugs" at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem,” said Hunt, “There are few public health issues of greater importance.”

Davies, too, offered a grim prognosis: “If we don't take action, in 20 years' time we could be back in the 19th century where infections kill us a result of routine operations.”

Government assistance comes at an opportune time as private companies continue to withdraw R&D support to develop new antibiotics. Drug makers have abandoned research because new agents face complex scientific challenges and provide a low return on investment. There have been only two new approvals since 2010.

New and more powerful antibiotics would likely require one dose and be reserved for only the most serious infections—which limits their use, and profitability.

The terms of the agreement will allow GSK a “portfolio” approach to how it uses government funds, making it a unique public-private collaboration. This approach allows GSK to move funding where it's most needed among its candidates, rather than tying up public funds to only one drug, the company said.

Reuters reported that the compounds covered by the BARDA agreement are currently in Phase I trials, and are still several years away from approval.

The experimental drugs will be monitored by a joint committee of both BARDA and GSK. The committee will also oversee the allocation of funds for the various Phase I candidates.

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