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New incentives needed to develop antibiotics to fight superbugs
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Monday, May 30, 2016

DRUGMAKERS are renewing efforts to develop medicines to fight emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but creating new classes of drugs on the scale needed is unlikely to happen without new financial incentives to make the effort worth the investment, companies and industry experts said.

American military researchers on Thursday announced the first US case of a patient with an infection found to be resistant to the antibiotic colistin, the drug often held in reserve for when all else fails.

That put a spotlight on the urgent need for new medicines that can combat what health officials have called “nightmare bacteria”.

Drugmakers on Friday acknowledged that in the absence of a new way of compensating them, it simply does not make economic sense to pour serious resources into work on new antibiotics. In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria causes two million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to US health officials.

Unrestrained overuse of current antibiotics by doctors and hospitals, often when they are not needed, and widespread antibiotic use in food livestock have contributed to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

But in recent years, major drugmakers have poured most of their research dollars into highly profitable medicines to fight cancer, rare diseases and hepatitis C. These drugs not only command high prices, they also are typically used far longer than antibiotics.

And the companies, which have come under intense criticism in recent months for continually raising prices on popular drugs, say it costs about as much to develop a new antibiotic as it does to bring to market new cancer drugs that can command more than US$100,000 ($138,026) a year per patient.

“Drug companies can’t make an economic case for investing in superbug drugs,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Gordon said governments and foundations need to get more involved in research and funding to spearhead efforts to combat the problem.

Glaxo and Merck are among the large pharmaceutical companies developing new antibiotics they hope can beat back resistant bugs, while Pfizer is working on vaccines aimed at reducing the need for their use.

Industry experts said small, lesser-known companies with promising approaches to tackling resistant superbugs included: Entasis Therapeutics, an AstraZeneca PLC spinoff, Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals Inc ; and Achaogen Inc. Glaxo said its experimental antibiotic gepotidacin, in midstage testing, belongs to an entirely new class of antibacterials. Other companies with late-stage studies underway for antibiotics include: Cempra Inc, whose drug was recently validated in a Japanese trial; Medicines Co; and Paratek Pharmaceuticals Inc. J&J is also putting money into battling antibiotic resistance.

Reuters

 



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