ZURICH - Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG gained exclusive worldwide rights to a drug candidate already in late-stage trials for treatment of drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA, it said on Thursday.

Novartis will share responsibility to develop the drug, called PTK 0796, with privately held Boston, Massachusetts-based company Paratek Pharmaceuticals.

It is being developed in both injectable and oral forms, which is important as it would make it easier for patients to continue treatment after they have left hospital.

Bacterial resistance, including MRSA, is a growing problem and despite the extensive use of generic drugs, there is a significant opportunity for new products, Citi analysts said in a note.

Citi currently expects first sales in 2013 and sees Novartis expanding the clinical trials programme to include other diseases like community acquired pneumonia.

The drug already has solid mid-stage data which show it to be equal or superior to Pfizer Inc's Zyvox, said Kepler Capital Markets analyst Tero Weckroth.

Novartis shares rose 0.6 percent to 51.50 Swiss francs at 0812 GMT, in line with the DJ Stoxx European healthcare sector .SXDP.

Novartis will make an upfront payment to Paratek in return for the exclusive rights to commercialise PTK 0796 worldwide.

The two companies will share responsibility and costs for developing the drug and Paratek could receive future milestone payments and potentially royalties on sales. Other financial details were not disclosed.

A Phase III study is already under way in complicated skin and skin structure infections, and clinical trials are planned in a number of other potential indications.

The drug's broad spectrum of activity means it could be used as a single agent against a range of bacteria, unlike other antibiotics, which may have to be used in combination, Novartis said.

Some 150,000 people die each year from infections acquired in hospitals in the United States and the European Union, according to Novartis.
Clinical studies involving a total of more than 500 patients showed PTK 0796 had a favourable safety and tolerability profile. (Additional reporting by Jason Rhodes; editing by Simon Jessop)