Feds put $20M behind anti-bioterrorism drug

The Department of Heath and Human Services announced financial backing Wednesday for the development of a drug to protect the public from bioterrorism attacks.

The agency will spend nearly $20 million through its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support the drug Carbavance, which is designed to safeguard against two separate bioterrorism threats and treat antibiotic-resistant infections.

The commitment is part of a five-year cost-sharing agreement with San Diego-based Rempex Pharmaceuticals Inc. An initial $19.8 million commitment can be extended to provide up to $90 million over the course of the partnership.

“By partnering with industry to develop novel antimicrobial drugs against biothreats that also treat drug-resistant bacteria, we can address health security and public health needs efficiently,” said Robin Robinson, director of the BARDA program.

Carbavance is seen as a potential treatment for deadly bacterial infections known as melioidosis and glanders. Roughly four in every 10 people who get sick from the bacteria die. Without treatment, the infections are fatal 90 percent of the time.

Also known as Whitmore's disease, melioidosis is often mistaken for tuberculosis or pneumonia and is highly transmittable. Glanders is a respiratory disease that can affect skin, blood, lungs, or muscles, and can be acquired by inhaling contaminated aerosols or dust.

Both have raised concern as potential agents of biological warfare or terrorism.

Carbavance also has potential as a doctor-prescribed treatment for certain urinary tract infections and cases of pneumonia acquired by people in hospitals and on ventilators — infections that are often resistant to existing antibiotics, the agency said.

“Antibiotic resistance adversely impacts our nation’s ability to respond effectively to a bioterrorism attack and to everyday public health threats,” Robinson said.

The government funding will help pay for preclinical and clinical studies, and manufacturing costs in support of eventual approval by the Food and Drug Administration.