A recent article in Bloomberg Business Week says that only two of the top 6 drugmakers (as determined by market value) are developing antibiotics. As IPs and pharmacists, many of our readers are already well aware of this neglected area of development. The void in the market has created an opportunity for sufficiently innovative competitors, and biotechnology companies are getting into the business as a result.
Big pharma has been getting out of the antibiotics business because the revenue potential for antibiotics is significantly lower than for medications used to treat chronic illness. Antibiotics are used in limited courses for several weeks at a time, as opposed to medicines that are used to treat chronic conditions over long periods. Additionally, as Bloomberg Business Week notes, doctors are advised to limit use of antibiotics because of concerns that overuse can cause resistance. Both these factors have a negative effect on antibiotic sales, removing the motivation for big pharma companies to develop new antibiotics. (It's worth noting that the concern about drug resistance is a well-founded one; drug-resistant bacteria cost the US healthcare system more than $34 billion and 100,000 lives last year, according to the Infection Disease Society of America, as cited by Bloomberg Business Week.)
We’ve previously written about the shortage of new antibiotic development on this blog, particularly as relates to NDM-1, and it’s comforting to know that some companies are trying to fill the general void. Bloomberg mentions Optimer Pharmaceuticals Inc. as an example of a biotech company developing an antibiotic. Optimer’s Dificid, developed to treat Clostridium difficile infections, could potentially be approved by the FDA by the end of this month. If so, it would be the first drug approved to treat C. diff in 25 years.
Other companies mentioned in the article are Trius Therapeutics, The Medicines Co., Paratek Pharmaceuticals Inc., Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Durata Therapeutics. All are in final testing of antibiotics that would be submitted for FDA approval in the next two to three years. While it’s certainly good to develop new lines of attack for bugs that are resistant to current antibiotics, it definitely does not diminish the need for vigilance when prescribing the currently existing drugs.
Article in Bloomberg Business Week: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-05-17/drug-resistant-germs-lure-biotechs-to-create-new-antibiotics.html