* Drug-resistant bacteria a threat to modern medicine
* Deal potentially worth up to $750 million
* Drug is designed to increase effectiveness of antibiotics
ZURICH, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Roche has boosted its efforts to tackle antibiotic resistance, striking a deal worth up to $750 million with Japan's Meiji Seika Pharma and Canada's Fedora for a drug that can restore the power of antibiotics to combat infections.
The Swiss drugmaker has eschewed Big Pharma's retreat away from antibiotic research over the past decade, instead rebuilding its activities in the space with several licensing deals and partnerships in recent years.
Under Tuesday's deal Roche will gain the right to develop and commercialise Meiji and Fedora's beta-lactamase inhibitor OP0595 worldwide, with the exception of Japan, where Meiji will keep sole rights.
Beta-lactamase inhibitors work by restoring or potentiating the activity of a class of antibiotics called beta-lactam, which includes penicillins, cephalosporins, monobactams and carbapenems, accounting for about 65 percent of global antibiotic sales.
Experts have warned that the rise of superbugs resistant to even the most powerful drugs could undermine modern medicine, sparking an urgent hunt for new treatments.
Antibiotic-resistant infections affect more than two million people in the United States every year and kill about 23,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The properties of OP0595 and its ability to be combined with new or existing beta-lactam antibiotics promise a significant advance in the battle against increasing multi-drug resistant bacteria," Fedora Chief Executive and founder Christopher G. Micetich said.
Meiji and Fedora will receive an upfront fee and further payment for development and commercial progress worth up to $750 million. Both companies are also entitled to tiered royalties from the sale of products from the collaboration.
Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by David Goodman