In what GlaxoSmithKline calls a “first,” the drug giant has won a contract with the U.S. government for funding of research into counters against bioterror and other threats.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded GlaxoSmithKline a contract worth as much as $200 million for research into antibiotics to counter bioterror and other threats, GSK said Wednesday.

The contract is the first in which HHS “has taken a ‘portfolio approach’ to funding drug development with a private sector company,” GSK said. “This unique collaboration provides flexibility to move funding around GSK’s antibacterial portfolio, rather than focusing on just one drug candidate and allow medicines to be studied for the potential treatment of both conventional and biothreat pathogens.”

GSK (NYSE: GSK) operates its North American headquarters in RTP.

“There is an urgent need to address antibiotic resistance and new models are needed to deal with this challenging area of drug development,” said David Payne, head of GSK’s Antibacterial Discovery Performance Unit, in announcing the deal. “We strongly believe that innovative public-private partnerships such as this are integral to solving this critical healthcare issue and we are delighted to work with BARDA in a more strategic way.”

The company will collaborate with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

It wo;; provide $40 million for the initial 18-month agreement. If the accord is renewed over five years, the department will provide as much as $200 million.

Even as drug-resistant bacteria pose a growing threat globally, the pipeline of new antibiotics is “virtually dry,” the World Health Organization has said. Public funding is necessary to sustain research in this area as many companies have withdrawn efforts given the scientific challenges and lower return on investment compared with other drugs, Glaxo said.

In addition to hospital infections, bioterrorism threats, including the plague, anthrax, rabbit fever, and potentially other unknown microbes are also targets for the new research, Payne said in an interview.

In October, Glaxo terminated clinical development of GSK2251052, an antibiotic for hospital and biothreat pathogens, after some patients showed resistance to the drug.

Glaxo and other drugmakers also won a contract from the U.S. in June to boost flu vaccine manufacturing ability during pandemics.

(Bloomberg news contributed to this report.)