Forge Therapeutics has reached a deal with Roche to support development of an antibiotic for drug-resistant bacterial lung infections.
The partnership announced this week gives the Swiss pharmaceutical giant the option to license the antibiotic from San Diego-based Forge. The preclinical biotech will retain control of the program, FG-LpxC LUNG, until Roche decides whether to exercise its exclusive option.
Forge’s experimental antibiotic is intended to address infections most commonly acquired by people with weakened immune systems and chronic lung diseases while in the hospital, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, or P.aeruginosa, infections. While these infections are generally treated with antibiotics, increasing rates of antibiotic resistance is making them more difficult to treat in healthcare settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes.
Forge’s antibiotic is designed to block a zinc metalloenzyme called LpxC, a key component in the structure of gram-negative bacteria, which have a protective envelope that makes them harder to attack. However, LpxC isn’t found in gram-positive bacteria, which doesn’t have the membrane, or in human cells. By inhibiting LpxC, the investigational Forge drug aims to treat drug-resistant infections without killing off “good” bacteria, which can open the door for opportunistic infections by bacterium such as Clostridium difficile.
Forge is also developing drugs that target LpxC to treat certain kinds of urinary tract infections and gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection.
No drugs targeting LpxC have been approved to date, although such therapeutics have been evaluated by biopharma, according to Forge. The company says its proprietary chemistry platform will allow it to develop more effective compounds than those researched previously.
If Roche decides to move forward with the drug, it will be responsible for further development. Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Forge is eligible for payments up to $190.5 million, including fees associated with sales milestones and royalties if it reaches commercialization. The company wouldn’t share any additional financial details, such as whether the deal included an upfront payment.
Forge has struck deals with biopharmas interested in its efforts before, including a strategic discovery partnership with Evotec, one of its investors, and a research collaboration with Basilea Pharmaceutica, a Roche spinoff.
Resistance to antimicrobial medicines, which limits treatment options and worsens patient health, is viewed as an increasing public health threat. A 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on antibiotic resistant threats counted 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections yearly in the US and about 35,000 deaths. Associated medical costs are estimated at $20 billion.
In January 2019 Forge was awarded funding to support development of the program Roche now has the option to license by CARB-X, a public-private initiative that supports antibacterial research.
In 2017, the company raised a $15 million Series A financing round from investors led by MagnaSci Ventures, a Houston-based investment fund focused on early-stage life science companies. Its supporters also include some government agencies.