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LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has signed an antibiotics development deal worth up to $200 million with GlaxoSmithKline to tackle the dual threats of drug resistance and bioterrorism.
The collaboration, the first of its kind between Washington and a drug company, will allow funding to move around GSK's antibiotics portfolio rather than focusing on a single drug candidate.
The rise of antibiotic resistance is causing alarm among governments worldwide, leading to warnings from officials such as England's chief medical officer Sally Davies that the issue is a "ticking time bomb" threatening public health.
Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently called for an urgent fight-back against "nightmare bacteria".
The collaboration between GSK and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will study potential new drugs to treat conventional pathogens and those that might be developed as bioterrorism weapons.
Britain's biggest drugmaker said on Wednesday it would receive $40 million for an initial 18 months and up to a total of $200 million if the agreement is renewed over five years.
The problem of antibiotic resistance and the rise of so-called "superbugs" that cannot be treated with traditional medicines has been growing for years, but drug companies have been reluctant to invest in new medicines because of poor returns.
Patients tend to take antibiotics for only a short period, prices are traditionally low and any new antibiotics are likely to be reserved for serious infections - once again minimizing the sales opportunity.
David Payne, head of GSK's antibacterial discovery unit, said public-private partnerships, like the one with BARDA, were a key part to solving the problem.
GSK is one of relatively few large pharmaceutical companies still pursuing research into new antibiotics.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques)