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Wellcome Trust and GlaxoSmithKline announce partnership to target drug-resistant hospital infections

The Wellcome Trust and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today announced a collaboration to develop a new class of antibacterials to combat the rise of certain drug-resistant hospital-acquired infections, including those that lead to pneumonia. The collaboration is part of the Wellcome Trust’s Seeding Drug Discovery initiative, aimed at tackling unmet medical needs.

GSK has received a £4 million award from the Trust to accelerate development of compounds for the treatment of Gram-negative bacteria which are becoming increasingly resistant to multiple antibacterials. GSK will make a matching contribution in staff, equipment, and other programme costs. The Trust will receive a financial consideration on any commercial product resulting from the collaboration.

"Our ability to tackle drug-resistant infections is reaching crisis level with few new antimicrobial agents on the horizon," says Dr Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust. "Antibacterials are expensive to develop and may be held in reserve, limiting their market potential. It can be difficult, therefore, for companies to recoup their outlay in R&D costs.

“This is where the Wellcome Trust believes it can make a difference through partnership. GSK has demonstrated a continuing commitment to discover and develop new antibacterials, aimed at addressing the growing threat of resistance. Our partnership will further support its research programmes."

The research will target Gram-negative bacteria, such as Pseudomonas, Klebsiella and Acinetobacter, which are increasingly resistant to available antibacterials and commonly cause hospital-acquired pneumonia and septic shock, particularly in patients in intensive care units. Without adequate therapy, patients often confront a poor prognosis – mortality is high, and recovery, when it occurs, can be long and complicated.

Dr Patrick Vallance, Senior Vice President of Drug Discovery at GSK, commented: “Infection by Gram-negative bacteria is a rapidly emerging public-health problem. GSK welcomes this collaboration with the Wellcome Trust to evaluate the potential of part of our existing antibiotics portfolio against these pathogens.”

Virtually no novel-mechanism antibacterials are in development to address this rising need. Gram-negative bacteria are particularly difficult to attack as they have an outer membrane surrounding the bacterial cell wall which interferes with drug penetration. New medicines must not only be toxic to the pathogen, but must first overcome the barriers to entry into the cell.

The resistance of various types of bacteria to treatment is creating new challenges in the management of infection. Few new antibiotic classes have entered the market in the last 40 years. In recognition of this challenge, GSK’s Infectious Diseases Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery (ID CEDD) is dedicated to research into medicines for bacterial as well as other types of infections.

The Wellcome Trust's £91 million Seeding Drug Discovery initiative aims to assist researchers and companies, small and large, to take forward early-stage drug discovery projects in small-molecule therapeutics. It is intended that these projects will then be taken up for further research and development by industry.

"Our partnership with GSK will capitalise on the company's research excellence and support it in developing a much needed product," explains Dr Bianco. “More generally, the public and private sectors must find creative ways to address antibiotic development, or face the spectre of being confronted with untreatable infections”.

The Wellcome Trust is currently accepting applications for the next round of funding under the Seeding Drug Discovery initiative. Preliminary applications submitted by 4 May 2007 will be short-listed for consideration by the committee in October 2007.

Craig Brierley | alfa
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