Novartis

(NVS) - Get Report

, continuing its strategy of making incremental acquisitions of experimental products for hard-to-treat diseases, said Wednesday it would buy a British developer of anti-infection drugs.

The Swiss drug colossus made a $569 million offer for

NeuTec Pharma

, which is working to fight dangerous fungal infections and skin infections that are major causes of deadly hospital-based infections.

The announcement follows a number of deals that enabled Novartis to expand its research and development of

treatments for hepatitis C. The company's latest acquisition is similar to the strategy executed last year by

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

, when the U.S. drug giant acquired

Vicuron Pharmaceuticals

.

One of the Vicuron drugs, the antifungal Eraxis, was

approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February for the deadly blood infection candidemia. The disease is caused by the Candida fungus entering the bloodstream and attacking organs and tissues. Vicuron's antibiotic Zeven remains under review by the FDA as a treatment for skin and soft-tissue infections.

Novartis will have to wait a bit longer to see if its NeuTec bet pays off, at least in the U.S. An application for one NeuTec drug, Mycograb, is expected to be submitted to the FDA in 2009. NeuTec submitted an application to the FDA's counterpart in the European Union in March 2005. Mycograb is an intravenous treatment for the fungal infection called invasive candidiasis, which has a high mortality rate.

Additionally, Novartis expects to submit an application to the FDA and European Union in 2010 for Aurograb, an intravenous treatment for the dangerous bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

. Some versions of this bacterium have become resistant to penicillin and related antibiotics.

"The treatment of hospital-acquired infectious diseases is increasingly moving toward combination therapy to improve outcomes and prevent the occurrence of resistance," said James Burnie, CEO of NeuTec, which has 23 employees. "The reach and resources of Novartis will help to maximize the potential of Mycograb and Aurograb to treat more patients and have a greater impact in an area with unmet medical need."

Daniel Vasella, the chairman and CEO of Novartis, said clinical trials show Mycograb can "significantly lower the mortality of patients with severe fungal infections."

The company said Mycograb will compete in a portion of the antifungal arena that yielded $1.7 billion in sales last year for the top seven markets. "The number of patients, estimated at more than 1.2 million worldwide annually, continues to rise as the population ages, and also due to the growing number of surgeries, use of chemotherapy and an increase in transplants," Novartis said. The company will conduct additional clinical trials to expand the drug's use for other diseases.

Aurograb would compete in a "rapidly growing segment of the antibiotics market," with $1.5 billion in sales for the top seven countries, Novartis said. Aurograb is now being tested in 35 medical centers in six European countries. The clinical trial is comparing Aurograb and vancomycin to vancomycin alone in the treatment of infections caused by

Staphylococcus aureus

that resist penicillin-like drugs. Vancomycin is considered the antibiotic of last resort.

Novartis said it also plans to conduct clinical trials with other drugs, such as the antibiotic Cubicin, as an add-on therapy. "The acquisition of NeuTec will expand our infectious disease portfolio to dramatically strengthen our position in hospital infections," said Thomas Ebeling, CEO of Novartis's prescription drug division.

Earlier this year, Novartis acquired

Chiron

, which gave it rights to Europe and other foreign markets for Cubicin, a treatment for complicated skin and soft-tissue infections. Cubicin is made by

Cubist Pharmaceuticals

(CBST)

, which recently won FDA approval for expanding its use to treating

often-deadly heart infections.

Novartis expects to close the NeuTec purchase during the second half of the year.