R&D, Restructuring, Workforce

Antibiotics R&D takes another hit as Achaogen slashes research ops in reorganization

There’s more bad news for the antibiotics R&D field Thursday evening.

Ken Hillan

A few weeks after the FDA green-lighted Achaogen’s $AKAO antibiotic Zemdri (plazomicin) for urinary tract infections but shunted aside their application on bloodstream infections, the biotech is laying off rank-and-file researchers and letting go its top research execs.

Altogether the company says it is cutting 80 jobs — 28% of the staff — as it chops spending on early-stage research and development, technical operations and general and administrative expenses.

Lee Swem

Ken Hillan, president R&D, will leave in mid-October, while CSO Lee Swem will depart a few weeks earlier.

Research will be narrowed to focus on C-Scape, an oral beta-lactam/beta-lactamase inhibitor combination, and new aminoglycoside antibiotics, which can count on some non-dilutive funding commitments to continue the work. The main task at Achaogen will be commercializing their approved product while hunting a European OK to expand that work.

For the past 10 years public health officials have been raising a hue and cry for new antibiotics as old standards struggle against a rising tide of drug resistance. But the bulk of the need can still be met with cheap standby therapies, making it hard to profit by them. As a result, Big Pharma bowed out largely, underscored by Novartis’ recent decision to join the exodus out of the field. AstraZeneca and others had done it years ago.


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