By Mary Welch

In its second major deal in less than a week, Versicor Inc. signed a $30 million collaboration with Pharmacia & Upjohn (P&U) to create oxazolidinones, a new class of antibacterials.

Fremont, Calif.-based Versicor and P&U, of Bridgewater, N.J., will collaborate in a three-year partnership that includes an up-front cash and equity payment as well as research funding. In subsequent years, the deal includes more equity, potential milestone payments and royalties.

The total value of the agreement, expected to be disclosed today, could be at least $30 million, including what the company called a ¿significant reward¿ for an oxazolidinone antibiotic reaching the market.

¿We cannot comment beyond that [$30 million] number,¿ said George Horner, CEO of privately held Versicor. ¿I cannot even tell you how much equity they now have in Versicor,¿ which, he added, is no longer a subsidiary of Sepracor Inc., of Marlborough, Mass.

Sepracor owns less than 20 percent of the company, though not because of this most recent deal.

Last week, Versicor signed an agreement worth up to $38 million with Novartis Pharma AG, of Basel, Switzerland, to discover antibacterials that inhibit deformylase and the Mur pathway. It was the first collaboration for the two-year-old company. (See BioWorld Today, April 2, 1999, p. 1.)

The deal with P&U is important in several ways, Horner said.

¿[P&U] is the best company to be working with in this class, and this is the first new class of antibiotics in more than 20 years,¿ he said. ¿No one else is even close.¿

Versicor¿s challenge is to ¿use our biological and combinatorial chemistry expertise with [P&U¿s] leadership in this area to create the next generation of oxazolidinones that will further maintain their franchise.¿

Zyvox Long-Term Success Rate Topped 93 Percent

P&U¿s Zyvox (linezolid) is in Phase III trials for the treatment of skin and soft-tissue infections; community-acquired and hospital-acquired pneumonia; and infections caused by Gram-positive bacteria. The latter includes methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.

Phase II trials of Zyvox in patients with soft-tissue and skin infections showed a clinical success rate at long-term follow up of 93.2 percent. Its new mechanism of action targets Gram-positive bacteria and attacks the bacteria before the initiation of the bacterial growth cycle.

As with its deal with Novartis, Versicor already has compounds that are active in vivo.

¿Again, that takes us closer to development and milestones,¿ Horner said. ¿We achieved these compounds through lead optimization models; the other [cell-free and cell-based deformylase assays] were started from scratch, but both have in vivo activity.¿