News / Health

Race On to Develop New Antibiotics

Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria

Multimedia

Vidushi Sinha

Drug companies are struggling to develop new and more effective antibiotics to combat the growing worldwide threat from drug-resistant germs.  In this second of her 2-part report on "Battling Superbugs," we examine the looming public health danger, and the challenges drug companies face in bringing new antibiotics to market.

Medical experts watching the rising tide of drug-resistant bacteria have begun sounding the alarms.  They say life-threatening infections could jeopardize surgeries, cancer treatment, organ transplants, and many other specialized medical procedures.

And some warn that if new anti-microbial drugs are not developed within the next few years, billions of people will be left nearly defenseless against some lethal bacterial infections.

Such concerns have prompted the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) to call for the development of 10 new antibiotic drugs by the year 2020, an initiative the group calls "10 by 20."

“The 10 by 20 initiative is IDSA’s challenge to the global community to come together to bring the right group of people together. People in government, industry, academia, policy makers to figure out the right combination of incentives that both will motivate companies who want to develop new antibiotics and also to find new ways to manage these products over time," said Robert Guidos, Vice President of IDSA.

Experts say that the hour of reckoning has arrived, and that if efforts to combat the problem are not launched now, dangerous diseases eradicated long ago could make a comeback.

Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shared that concern recently with Capitol Hill lawmakers. "If we don't improve our response to the public health problem of antibiotic resistance, we may enter a post- antibiotic world in which we will have few or no clinical interventions for some infections," he said.

Recent studies have shown that there are very few new antibiotics in the development pipeline that would work against lethal infections born out of bacterial resistance such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, or carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, or CRKP for short.

About 2 million MRSA infections have been reported in U.S. hospitals each year since 2002.

Barry Eisenstein is Vice President of Cubist, an American drug company with a new anti-MRSA drug in development, as well as many others.

He says neither the federal regulatory environment nor the pharmaceutical market are favorable for companies trying to develop antibiotics. “The expense and difficulty of doing these...trials for the most important diseases have become very hard and very difficult to the point that many of the big companies have actually gotten out of the field of antibiotic development because they don’t feel that it’s worth the investment," he said.

Some drug company executives contend that financial returns on investments made in a new antibiotic are significantly lower than for other new drugs reaching the market.

“Think about the cholesterol-lowering drug - it’s not uncommon for many of the statins to be bringing in $5 - 10 or more billions per year. For an antibiotic to sell at a half a billion is considered a blockbuster, almost unheard of," he said.

Eisenstein says the push to make "a perfect drug" that is both safe and effective beyond a shadow of doubt has considerably slowed the pace of new antibiotics reaching the market.

To get companies back in the antibiotics game, Eisenstein says two things have to be done.

“The regulatory risk - to decrease the great hurdles to get approval and increase the likelihood of being able to get a drug approved in a shorter period of time, at a higher proportion of probability. And then on the economic side, to enable the companies to have greater incentives to overcome what we call market failure," he said.

Drug companies note that the newest antibiotics, typically, are likely to be prescribed more carefully and used more sparingly - meaning slower sales and smaller profits for the companies that develop them.

Neverthless, public health experts say one new antibiotic has already been approved for use in the United States, and they are hopeful that the ambitious goal  of developing nine more by 2020 can be achieved.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs