HHS supports development of anti-bioterrorism drug

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday that it will fund the development of a new drug to protect individuals against bioterrorism threats.

Under the terms of a five-year, cost-sharing agreement, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will commit up to $90 million to the San Diego-based Rempex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to develop Carbavance. In addition to protecting against the bioterror threats melioidosis and glanders, Carbavance would also potentially provide a new option to treat antibiotic-resistant infections.

"Antibiotic resistance adversely impacts our nation's ability to respond effectively to a bioterrorism attack and to everyday public health threats," Robin Robinson, the director of BARDA, said. "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."

Melioidosis, also called Whitmore's disease, is a common infection in parts of southeast Asia and Australia. The infection can be mistaken for common forms of pneumonia and tuberculosis. The bacteria that cause melioidosis can be found in soil and water.

Glanders is a respiratory disease that can affect the muscles, lungs, blood and skin. Though the disease is primarily found in animals, the bacteria that cause glanders can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or by inhaling contaminated dust or aerosols.

Using existing antibiotic treatments, approximately 40 percent of people who become ill from melioidosis or glanders die from the illnesses. The number goes up to 90 percent without treatment. Both glanders and melioidosis can become resistant to existing antibiotics.

The Carbavance project includes funding for preclinical and clinical studies, manufacturing of enough of the drug for the studies and other manufacturing-related activities required to apply for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.