Chapel Hill’s Cempra awarded $16M federal grant

Chapel Hill drug developer Cempra has been awarded a federal grant of $16 million as part of a five-year $58.6 million research contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.

The BARDA funding will pay for two clinical studies in which pediatric patients up to age 17 will take intravenous, oral suspension and oral capsule formulations of solithromycin, Cempra’s experimental antibiotic that’s under development to counteract bioterror pathogens, such as anthrax and tularemia.

The study will enroll up to 64 infants, children and adolescents with suspected or confirmed bacterial infections. Cempra said Wednesday. The purpose of the study is to determine whether the antibiotic behaves similarly in the body of a young person or child as it does in the adult body with regard to such characteristics as the absorption and metabolism of the medication.

The BARDA contract, awarded last year, represents Cempra’s sole source of revenue at this time. In the initial phase of the BARDA contract, Cempra received $17.7 million to study solithromycin in patients aged 12 to 17 years of age with a variety of infections.

The 54-employee company was founded in 2006 and has no drugs on the market. Cempra is developing antibiotics to treat drug-resistant bacterial infectious diseases, including pneumonia and prosthetic joint infections.

Cempra shares, which opened at $13.22, were up about 3 percent in mid-morning trading Thursday.