Pfizer to develop medicines to treat life-threatening infections

Posted on 11 Jan 2007 at 3:02pm
By Linda A. Johnson Associated Press

Drug company to partner with Elusys Therapeutics to use against
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections

TRENTON, N.J. A small biotech company developing drugs that use antibodies to target nasty germs has partnered with Pfizer Inc. to create medicines to treat life-threatening infections, starting with drug-resistant staph cases.

Elusys Therapeutics Inc. of Montville, which has been developing an anthrax treatment for the U.S. government, on Jan. 4, announced the new research and licensing deal with Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company.

Initially, Elusys will test its experimental drug against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections, or MRSA. The increasingly common infection resists treatment by nearly all antibiotics and kills about 12,000 Americans each year. Federal statistics show that MRSA cases account for more than half the infections in U.S. hospital intensive care units, strike about 300,000 people a year and cost, on average, more than $48,000 to treat.

“It’s two to three times more expensive to treat a MRSA infection than it is to treat another infection,” said Elizabeth Posillico, president and chief executive officer of privately held Elusys.

New York-based Pfizer has given Elusys an undisclosed, upfront cash investment and is funding several positions for researchers working on the project, she said.

“If all sales and clinical development milestones are met, this deal exceeds $200 million in value,” Posillico told The Associated Press.

The experimental drug contains two chemically coupled antibodies. One binds to the target, in this case the MRSA bacterium, and the other to a red blood cell, which then ferries the entire complex to the liver, where it is destroyed.

The as-yet-unnamed drug, which also will be tested against other bacterial and viral infections, has been effective in killing MRSA in mice, and Elusys hopes to start testing in people by late 2008. Approval of any drug is likely more than five years away, Posillico said.

Research is much further along on Anthim, an antibody-based compound designed to treat anthrax infections by binding to toxins released by the deadly bacteria, gobble them up and clear them from the body. It was found to be safe when tested in healthy volunteers and, after further testing on anthrax-infected animals, the company could start selling the drug by the end of this year to the federal government, Posillico said.

The Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health have given the company nearly $20 million over several years to help fund the research, she said. So far, when given to rabbits or monkeys within a couple days of infection, the drug has kept more than half of them alive.

Elusys also is starting research on an antibody-based drug that could remove the HIV virus from the blood of infected patients and to determine whether an antibody targeting a specific receptor on red blood cells could be the basis for future drugs to treat a variety of bacteria and viruses.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, January 12, 2006.

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