MedImmune Inc. of Gaithersburg said yesterday that it had licensed the rights to develop a new drug to prevent blood infections in newborns from British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline LLP, bolstering the company's focus on infant health.

The deal was a reversal of sorts in the drug industry, which in the last couple of years typically has seen big pharmaceutical firms turn to biotech companies to help replenish dwindling product pipelines with novel treatments.

This time, it was the region's most successful biotech company turning to a drug giant to help fill its pipeline of prospective new drugs. MedImmune makes FluMist, an inhaled flu vaccine, and Synagis, a billion-dollar product that prevents respiratory infections in premature babies, and is working toward new versions of both.

Known as BSYX-A110, the potential product from GlaxoSmithKline targets Staphylococcus bacteria, a strain of which is the leading cause of blood infections in neonatal intensive care units. Studies have shown that the infection increases hospital stays up to 40 days and costs up to $200,000.

"From our point of view, this was a natural addition to our pipeline," said Ed Mathers, MedImmune's senior vice president of corporate development. "This is what you'll see in the coming months -- us building our pipeline as aggressively as possible."

Mathers said MedImmune was attracted to the drug's potential for several years following its development by Biosynexus Inc., also of Gaithersburg. But Glaxo licensed the drug in 2002.

"We got involved late in the game, and at that point [GlaxoSmithKline] was already in advanced discussions with them," Mathers said.

But when the Belgium-based Glaxo unit developing the drug became more focused on vaccines, Mathers said MedImmune seized the opportunity. Glaxo officials could not be reached for comment.

MedImmune will pay Glaxo an upfront fee, as well as potential milestone and royalty payments. MedImmune will also assume responsibility for future milestone and royalty payments to Biosynexus. The terms were not disclosed.

Biosynexus's chief executive, Irwin Scher, said he was pleased with the deal.

"MedImmune works in this area," he said. "It's the same patient population as Synagis. They know the physicians who will [be] prescribing this. I think MedImmune will be a great partner for us."

Scher declined to comment on how the deal affected the original payment structure with Glaxo.

Shares of MedImmune closed up 54 cents, at $27.33.

FluMist is the first nasal-mist flu vaccine. MedImmune's other products are Synagis to block infant respiratory problems, Ethyol to reduce toxicity in cancer patients and CytoGam to prevent infection after organ transplants.Ed Mathers, a MedImmune senior vice president, predicts the firm will build its pipeline aggressively.