Novartis has hit the acquisition trail again and is buying the USA’s privately-held Protez Pharmaceuticals in a deal that will give the Swiss major access to a “promising hospital antibiotic”.

Under the terms of the agreement, Novartis is initially shelling out $100 million and Protez's owners are eligible for additional payments of up to $300 million depending on the clinical development of PZ-601. The compound is a novel broad-spectrum antibiotic, which belongs to a class of agents known as carbapenems which treat life-threatening infections caused by Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria.

PZ-601 has been shown to have a broad spectrum of activity that could offer better coverage over existing injectable antibiotics, especially against multidrug-resistant bacteria including MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) strains “that are becoming an increasing public health challenge”, said Novartis. A 100-patient, Phase II study was started by Protez in May in the USA to evaluate PZ-601 in patients with complicated skin and skin structure infections including cellulites, abscesses, infected wounds and ulcers. First regulatory submissions are planned for 2012.

It was also noted that Japan’s Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co is the intellectual property holder of PZ-601 and retains the rights to the drug in certain markets.

Joe Jimenez, chief executive of Novartis Pharma, said the acquisition of Protez “will further strengthen our position in the specialty field of hospital infections while helping to address the public health challenges of increasing bacterial resistance and high mortality rates”. The Basel-based group concluded by saying that the addition of PZ-601 expands its portfolio of specialty medicines for severe infectious diseases. It currently markets Cubicin (daptomycin) for use in treating complicated skin and soft-tissue infections, right-sided infective endocarditis due to S aureus and S aureus bacteremia.

Novartis highlights vaccines pipeline
On a busy day for Novartis, the firm will be presenting details of its new vaccines at an R&D meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, later today (June 4).

The most advanced treatments are two meningococcal vaccines – Menveo and MenB – and speaking ahead of the meeting Novartis also highlighted an “exciting early-stage pipeline” of novel jabs. Specifically it noted that a proof-of-concept trial of a Helicobacter pylori vaccine for stomach ulcers will begin by the end of 2008, while a group B Streptococcus vaccine candidate is in Phase I clinical trials, with the potential to protect against neonatal sepsis and meningitis.