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Roche, Biotech to Discover New Antibiotics

Klebsiella pneumonia bacteria

Klebsiella pneumonia bacteria (CDC.gov)

16 October 2017. A biotechnology company that discovers new drugs through detailed genomic analysis is partnering with drug maker Roche to find new treatments for bacterial infections that resist current antibiotics. The collaboration with Roche is expected to bring Warp Drive Bio in Cambridge, Massachusetts as much as $387 million over the course of the agreement.

Warp Drive Bio is a five year-old company discovering new drugs that address disease-causing proteins considered too difficult to treat with conventional small-molecule drugs or biologic therapies alone. These protein targets, says the company, are either inside cells making them inaccessible to biologics, or do not have particular features needed to bind with small molecule drugs.

Among Warp Drive Bio’s tools is a technique it calls genome mining that searches for molecular targets inside microbes hidden to conventional lab analytical methods. The company says it compiled a database of 4 million gene clusters derived from 135,000 microbial strains, queried by its own search engine to reveal targets expressed by these genomic signatures. These new targets, says the company, make it possible to develop synthetic molecules with new mechanisms for attacking bacteria. Warp Drive Bio says it is evaluating more than 100 previously undiscovered classes of antibiotic candidates not yet analyzed for their potential impact on human health.

Roche identifies new treatments for antibiotic resistance as one of its core research objectives. The agreement gives Roche an exclusive, worldwide license to develop and commercialize undisclosed classes of new antibiotics identified by Warp Drive Bio through its genomic mining techniques. The collaboration is specifically going after gram-negative drug-resistant bacteria. “Gram” refers to a classification for bacteria where the microbes either retain (gram-positive) or shed (gram-negative) a test stain on their protective cell coatings.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says each year some 2 million people in the U.S. develop infections resistant to antibiotics, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths. Gram-negative bacteria are resistant to multiple drugs and are increasingly resistant to most available antibiotics, says CDC. These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to be resistant and can pass along genetic materials that allow other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well. Gram-negative infections include those caused by Klebsiella, Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli bacteria.

Warp Drive Bio is receiving an initial payment of $87 million covering option fees and preclinical research. The company is also eligible for up to $300 million in future development, regulatory, and sales milestones of products that result from the collaboration, as well as royalties on sales of those products. Warp Drive Bio, however, will retain the rights to other classes of antibiotics discovered in the project, but not developed by Roche.

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