AstraZeneca will spend $40 million to create a new stand-alone subsidiary focused on early-stage research and development of small molecule anti-infectives.

The new subsidiary will focus exclusively on R&D for AstraZeneca’s early-stage antibiotic pipeline, including the gyrase inhibitor AZD0914, now in Phase II for the treatment of gonorrhea, the pharma giant said.

The new unit reflects AstraZeneca’s two-year-old shift of priorities within its therapeutic areas under CEO Pascal Soriot. In March 2013 as part of a restructuring, the company halved its core therapeutic areas to three, in part by reducing its focus on anti-infectives, as well as vaccines and neuroscience treatments. Soriot said at the time the company would remain active in anti-infectives, “though our investments will be more opportunity driven.”

Soriot last year spelled out the company’s wish to sell off its anti-infective business, or at least find a partner for it as it did for an Alzheimer’s drug candidate. Eli Lilly joined AstraZeneca in co-developing AZD3293, an oral beta secretase cleaving enzyme (BACE) inhibitor, last September in a partnership that could net AZ up to $500 million in development and regulatory milestone payments.

In today’s statement, AstraZeneca asserted that it “continues to be committed to research and development in this important area of public health.”

“We anticipate that the new company will be led by and include staff from AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines Unit,” AstraZeneca said in a statement emailed to GEN. “The new structure will provide greater flexibility for the future development of the early stage small molecule anti-infectives pipeline. It reflects the company’s business model of creating value from the promising science that exists in our pipeline for the benefit of patients while redeploying resources in our main therapy areas.”

AstraZeneca added that the new unit will affect about 95 employees based in Waltham, MA.

“It is anticipated that some of the researchers impacted by the changes will take up roles in the new company, or in other parts of AstraZeneca. We are fully committed to supporting our people through the transition,” the company stated.

AstraZeneca said its new unit will have no effect on late-stage small molecule infection programs; on subsidiary MedImmune’s portfolio of biologic anti-infectives; or on already-marketed products, including Merrem, Zinforo, Fluenz/Flumist, and Synagis.

“AstraZeneca continues to progress its late-stage small molecule infection programmes, notably CAZ-AVI, while at the same time exploring partnership opportunities to ensure these potential new treatments reach patients as quickly as possible,” the company stated.

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