A Malvern startup, Protez Pharmaceuticals Inc., is being acquired by Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG for up to $400 million in cash.

Protez is developing new antibiotics and will become a wholly owned (standalone) subsidiary of Novartis and maintain operations in Malvern.

Protez said it will receive an initial $100 million, and up to $300 million after achieving certain milestone goals in clinical trials, regulatory approvals, and product commercialization.

Protez's lead experimental medicine is a potent injectable antibiotic to fight infections in hospital patients. The compound, known as PZ-601, is in mid-stage, or Phase 2, development for patients with difficult-to-treat and life-threatening bacterial infections, such as MRSA.

In 2005, Protez licensed the compound from Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co. Ltd. of Japan.

The acquisition will offer Protez research expertise, funds, and global reach to develop and commercialize products.

Protez president and CEO Christopher M. Cashman said the "growing presence of Novartis in the specialty field of hospital infections will provide Protez the support required to fully execute its vision, advance its product pipeline, and positively impact human health."

Cashman, who previously held marketing, sales and management jobs at SmithKline Beecham P.L.C. and Pfizer Inc., founded Protez in 2003 after acquiring some promising early-stage antibacterial technologies that emerged from research at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Last month, Protez began a 100-patient Phase 2 study in the United States to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of PZ-601 in patients with complicated skin infections, including abscesses, infected wounds and ulcers.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health problem, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that two million people in the United States develop hospital-acquired infections each year, and that 90,000 die from them.