By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

Paratek Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privately held company dedicated to finding ways around antibiotic resistance, signed a deal with Glaxo Wellcome worth up to $95 million plus royalties to develop a version of tetracycline that can sidestep resistance to the drug.

Boston-based Paratek will receive up to $95 million in equity investments, research support and milestone payments from Middlesex, England-based Glaxo Wellcome plc. The precise breakdown of the payments wasn't disclosed; however, Glaxo Wellcome won't own a significant portion of Paratek as a result of its equity investment.

"What's wonderful about this deal is that it's going to allow the renaissance of tetracyclines," said Stuart Levy, president and chief scientific officer for Paratek and professor of molecular biology and microbiology and of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is an increasingly serious problem. Over the past year, hospitals from around the world have reported nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections with bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics, including the antibiotics of last resort: vancomycin and fluoroquinolones.

Paratek, a biotech start-up that employs eight people, has two technology platforms aimed at combating bacterial resistance. The first is a method of developing novel tetracycline derivatives that can avert the resistance mechanisms bacteria employ.

As Levy described it, there are two ways of making resistant bacteria once again susceptible to tetracycline. First, the researchers can thwart the resistance mechanisms - which include a pump that removes the antibiotic and a way to protect the function of ribosomes - within the cell in order to allow the old antibiotic to work. The other method is creating a molecule that targets both resistance mechanisms in order to avoid them entirely.

Glaxo is teaming up with Paratek to advance the development of tetracycline derivatives that Paratek has created. Levy told BioWorld Today that tetracycline was once the antibiotic of choice for many infections, "and developing it for use again is very attractive because it is a safe, well-known compound."

In addition to its tetracycline platform, the company is working on compounds that would limit a bacteria's ability to sense its environment. This ability, which is encoded on the bacterial chromosome, allows bacteria to detect potential threats such as antibiotics and disinfectants and turns on a host of pumps and other mechanisms that result in multiple drug resistance.

"Our second platform targets how a bacteria senses the environment it's in - the multiple drug resistance locus," Levy said. "We are aiming to increase the activity of antibiotics by making them more effective. These drugs could be used as an adjunct."

Paratek was founded two years ago by Levy and Walter Gilbert, professor at Harvard University, Nobel Prize Laureate and co-founder and former CEO of Biogen Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.