Jan 18, 2020

Dwindling antibiotics undermine fight against drug-resistant infections, WHO warns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Shrinking investment and a lack of innovation in the development of new antibiotics is "undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections," the World Health Organization warned on Friday, citing two of its new reports.

Why it matters: "Without government intervention, the United Nations estimates that resistant infections could kill 10 million people annually by 2050 and prompt an economic slowdown to rival the global financial crisis of 2008," the New York Times reports.

What's happening: It can take up to 10 years and north of $2 billion to develop a new antibiotic and commercialize it, the Times writes. Large pharmaceutical companies aren't producing as many antibiotics, and of those that are being developed, only a handful target the most dangerous drug-resistant infections.

  • Drug company executives, public health experts and patient advocates are insisting that Washington establish new programs and policies to attract the necessary funding to help struggling antibiotic companies and continue to attract drug company giants.
“Never has the threat of antimicrobial resistance been more immediate and the need for solutions more urgent. Numerous initiatives are underway to reduce resistance, but we also need countries and the pharmaceutical industry to step up and contribute with sustainable funding and innovative new medicines.”
WHO's Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Between the lines: "Unlike drugs that treat chronic conditions and are taken for years, antibiotics save lives, but are taken for just a week or two, diminishing their profitability for drugmakers," the NYT's Andrew Jacobs writes.

The other side: In WHO's report on possible novel therapies, 252 agents in development were identified to target 12 pathogens declared serious threats to humanity, including E. coli, salmonella and the bacteria that can cause gonorrhea.

Yes, but: Among 50 new antibiotics in clinical trials, only two are active against the most worrisome category of bugs, per the Times.

Go deeper: U.S. pushes global effort to fight antibiotic resistance at UN meeting

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Big Pharma's bottom line is leaving the world vulnerable to pandemics

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Drug companies don't have much financial incentive to invest research and development dollars into new vaccines and antibiotics, leaving the world vulnerable to future pandemics.

Between the lines: The best-case scenario for these kinds of drugs is that they're lightly or never used. That doesn't sound very good to companies when their R&D dollars could alternatively go to diseases like cancer, which are much more likely to turn a sizable profit.

Go deeperArrowJan 24, 2020

WHO warns of 13 emerging health threats including possible pandemics

Photo: Probst/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Government leaders need to implement a "decade of change" and invest more in the key health priorities and systems to prevent global health threats over the next decade, the World Health Organization warned last week.

What's new: Climate change, infectious diseases and epidemic threats, socioeconomic inequalities, and conflicts are some of the 13 urgent challenges WHO says will imperil global health — but addressing them is "within reach" if action is taken now.

Go deeperArrowJan 20, 2020

NIH has no big drug manufacturer on board to make its coronavirus vaccine

Anthony Fauci speaks at a Feb. 7 press conference on coronavirus developments. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

A leading U.S. health official said Tuesday it's "very frustrating" that no major drug firm has yet offered to make a vaccine against the novel coronavirus that the National Institutes of Health is helping develop, STAT News reports.

Why it matters: When outbreaks of new worrisome pathogens start, governments may immediately start working on diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, but they also need a buy-in from drug companies that sometimes get burned if the outbreak suddenly peters out or the drug isn't successful.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - Health