AstraZeneca has snapped up French infection research group Novoxel and set in place a subsequent deal with US group Forest that will see the two companies work together on two late-stage antibiotics

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said yesterday that it has shelled out an initial $350 million to buy 100% of Novexel’s shares, and that it could pay shareholders an extra $75 million if the group hits certain pre-specified targets. The drug giant has also promised to transfer to shareholders whatever Novexel’s cash balance is on completion of the deal, which is expected to be around $80 million.

But AstraZeneca stands to recoup half of the total acquisition cost for Novexel as per the terms of a separate agreement with Forest Laboratories, in return for rights to the antibiotic CAZ104 (ceftazidime/NXL-104) in North America and the buy down of payment obligations in relation to CEF104 (ceftaroline/NXL-104) to Novexel from existing license deals.

Under the terms of AstraZeneca’s pact with Forest, both companies will share development costs for the antibiotic combinations. The US group holds commercialisation rights in North America while AstraZeneca will have rights to the rest of the world, except CEF104 in Japan, where Takeda will retains rights for ceftaroline. AstraZeneca will pay undisclosed royalties to Forest on its international sales of the NXL-104/ceftaroline.

Both antibiotic combinations utilise Novexel’s novel investigational beta-lactamase inhibitor NXL-104 to combat antibiotic-resistance, the incidence of which is rising around the world posing a significant problem in healthcare.

According to AstraZeneca, CAZ104’s development will focus on serious infections requiring intensive care unit stays such as intra-abdominal, urinary tract and hospital acquired pneumonia, and is expected to move into Phase III late next year with a regulatory filing on both sides of the Atlantic in 2012. The CEF104 combination is destined for indications where a mixed Gram-negative and Gram-positive profile can be of use, such as skin and diabetic foot infections, and is scheduled to move into Phase II development in late 2010.

A 'strategic priority'
The two deals are designed to substantially bolster AstraZeneca’s anti-infective portfolio, which has become “a strategic priority” for the firm “as antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses a growing threat to human health,” explained Anders Ekblom, AstraZeneca Executive Vice-President of Development.

“The innovative structure of this agreement allows us to build on our existing collaboration with Forest to create value, share costs, and reduce exposure to risk while developing two novel antibiotic combinations that address a growing problem for clinicians and patients,” he said, further explaining the move.

And speaking of the deal, Iain Buchanan, Novexel’s CEO, said: "I am confident that the acquired assets will receive continued investment from both AstraZeneca and Forest and will have the possibility to play an important therapeutic role to combat resistant organisms in the hospital.”