Shionogi agrees $140m deal to buy antibiotic biotech Qpex


While most pharma companies have exited the antibiotics area, Japanese drugmaker Shionogi has stuck with it and has just expanded its pipeline with a deal to buy US biotech Qpex Biopharma.

Shionogi is offering $100 million upfront for San Diego-based Qpex and its three clinical-stage antibiotic programmes, with another $40 million on the table if they meet development and regulatory targets. If the deal goes through, Qpex will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Japanese company.

Qpex’s pipeline revolves around xeruborbactam, an extended-spectrum beta-lactamase inhibitor that is in early-stage clinical testing in both intravenous and oral combinations for infections caused by drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria.

Beta-lactamase inhibitors are designed to overcome a key resistance mechanism that allows pathogens to protect themselves from beta-lactams, one of the most commonly-used antibiotic classes.

Years of neglect by a pharma industry unable to see a way to secure a commercial return on antibiotics R&D has created a situation where the world is running out of effective anti-infectives, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could be causing 10 million deaths a year by 2050 unless new drugs are developed.

It is estimated that resistant infections already kill more than a million people worldwide every year.

“Bacterial resistance to antibiotics remains one of the biggest threats to global health, and Qpex’s pipeline, including xeruborbactam, and its capabilities will accelerate our efforts to develop new antibiotic treatments to address antimicrobial resistance,” commented Shionogi's chief executive, Isao Teshirogi.

Qpex’s pipeline includes ORAvance, which combines xeruborbactam with an oral beta-lactam QPX2015 and is in phase 1b testing for infections caused by pathogens with extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) resistance and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales (CRE).

Xeruborbactam is also being tested in human studies alongside IV beta-lactam QPX2014 for serious drug-resistant infections caused by Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas, and Enterobacterales species. Following after, is a new polymyxin lipopeptide antibiotic, codenamed QPX9003, for multidrug-resistant (MDR) Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter.

Qpex presented the results of several clinical trials of xeruborbactam in tandem with established beta-lactam antibiotics at last year’s ID Week Meeting in Washington DC.

These will slot into Shionogi’s portfolio alongside Fetroja (cefiderocol), billed as the first and only siderophore cephalosporin antibiotic that has a novel mechanism for penetrating the outer cell membrane of Gram-negative pathogens and was first approved by the FDA in 2019.

Fetroja – sold as Fetcroja in some markets – was one of the first antibiotics selected for inclusion in the UK’s pioneering new subscription-based payment model for antimicrobials, designed to encourage research into new drugs.

Recognising that new antibiotics are generally reserved for last-line use and so make tiny sales volumes, the model relies on regular payments to developers that are not tied to how much of the drug is actually used.