- Eli Lilly announced Monday plans to sell regional rights for two legacy antibiotics and a facility that manufactures one of them to a specialty drugmaker based in China.
- The buyer, named Eddingpharm, has agreed to pay Lilly $75 million upfront and another $300 million once the deal closes, which is anticipated later this year or early next. In exchange, Eddingpharm receives rights in China to Vancocin and Ceclor, both broad-spectrum antibiotics, as well as a plant in Suzhou, China that produces Ceclor.
- The Suzhou site employs around 250 people, according to a Lilly spokesperson. In a statement, the big pharma said each worker at the Ceclor plant, along with "certain employees from shared functions," will be offered the opportunity to stay there and work for Eddingpharm.
Antibiotics remain a pain point for big pharma. Amid the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, government agencies and health policy experts have called on the industry to put more R&D dollars toward finding new antibiotics.
Many lawmakers have been willing to incentivize the work as well. In the U.S., the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now Act offers drug companies expedited regulatory reviews and additional market exclusivity for developing antibiotics that meet certain criteria.
Drug companies, however, still find the commercial prospects for antibiotics both tricky and limited.
Regulators have encouraged healthcare providers to use the drugs sparingly, due again to concerns over antimicrobial resistance.
Pricing is also an issue. If the antibiotic is too expensive, it may run into reimbursement barriers or be inaccessible to many patients — particularly those in low- to middle-income countries, which already struggle with procuring antibiotics.
Drugmakers both large and small have scrapped antibiotics work because of the development and market challenges. Novartis in 2018 announced it would be exiting antibacterial and antiviral research. Achaogen, a California-based biotech, just recently filed for bankruptcy despite having received Food and Drug Administration approval for an antibiotic called Zemdri (plazomicin) less than a year ago.
"Those who have followed this field will recognize that scientific challenges and economic strain are not the exception but represent the typical scenario that is faced when a new antibacterial drug is developed," wrote a trio of regulatory and clinical research directors, who detailed the perils of antibiotic drug development in a February editorial published in New England Journal of Medicine.
Lilly is another company that has backed away. A spokesperson noted to BioPharma Dive that antibiotics are no longer a core therapeutic area for the company — though several legacy brands such as Ceclor and Vancocin are still available, mainly in emerging markets.
The spokesperson added that Lilly no longer actively promotes Ceclor and Vancocin in most countries, including the U.S., because the drugs went off patent many years ago.
Through the Eddingpharm deal, Lilly expects to free up resources for other products heading to the Chinese market.
"This transaction will enable Lilly China to better focus our resources on the exciting new therapies that we are launching in our core therapeutic areas, so that we can bring more life-changing medicines to patients in China," said Julio Gay-Ger, president and general manager of Lilly China, in the April 23 statement.