Colorado State University researcher helps evaluate drug for use against bacterial biothreat

Note to Reporters: A photo of Dr. Schweizer is available with this news release online at

Pathogen experts at Colorado State University are working with a global pharmaceutical company to discover whether a new drug combination could successfully thwart human infection by a bacterium pegged as a potential bioterrorism threat.

Herbert P. Schweizer, a professor in the CSU Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, is partnering with Rempex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Medicines Company, to investigate whether a drug therapy called Carbavance™ can be used to treat infection with Burkholderia pseudomallei. The highly infectious bacterium is found in soil and water and causes the disease melioidosis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists B. pseudomallei as a select agent, meaning a disease-causing pathogen that could pose a severe threat to public health, with limited treatment options. Melioidosis is an emerging infectious disease primarily of tropical climates that affects people and animals; the disease is problematic because symptoms vary greatly, often mimicking tuberculosis and pneumonia. Even with aggressive antibiotic treatment up to 50 percent of patients die from the illness.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is funding this public-private partnership with Rempex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to investigate the potential utility of Carbavance™ for the treatment of melioidosis. The agency is charged with developing effective medical countermeasures that address national biodefense preparedness and routine public health needs, including the threat of multi-drug resistant pathogens.

“We have unique resources here that can contribute to these research projects that otherwise could not be done by the companies involved,” said Schweizer, an internationally recognized expert in antibiotic resistance of gram-negative bacteria, including B. pseudomallei.

CSU resources include Biosafety Level 3 sealed laboratory facilities. In addition, Schweizer and his colleagues participate in the work of Rocky Mountain Regional Center of Excellence, a Fort Collins-based consortium of university researchers, federal labs and biotech companies focused on battling infectious diseases, including those that could result from bioterrorism.

Schweizer’s new project will specifically examine the drug therapy Carbavance, developed by Rempex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Carbavance is the combination of a carbapenem antibiotic with a novel beta-lactamase inhibitor for treatment of multi-drug resistant gram-negative infections.

The CSU scientists will determine whether Carbavance can help protect the public against certain bioterrorism threats, and whether it could provide a new option for treatment of difficult antibiotic-resistant infections. Such infections have been emerging and now pose public-health crises worldwide.

Rempex and BARDA entered into a cost-sharing agreement that provides an initial commitment from the U.S. government of $19.8 million while establishing six option periods that, if executed, would bring the total value of the award to approximately $90 million.

This project has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under Contract No. HHSO100201400002C.