This blog will deal with the social, economic and public policy implications of contemporary science and technology with an emphasis on biomedical aspects.
Friday, February 22, 2013
New Drugs for Bad Bugs?
For the last several decades infectious disease physicians
have been warning about the ever-increasing prevalence of pathogens that are
resistant to existing antibiotics. This includes some really scary organisms
such as multidrug-resistant Enterococci and vancomycin resistant MRSA. Despite
this rapidly evolving threat there has been relatively little research on new
antibiotics within Big Pharma. Presumably the return on investment for this
area is not attractive to the industry.
Thus it is cheering to learn that the European Union
Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is preparing to invest $550M in drug
discovery for new antibiotics. This seems a very timely move. Contemporary high
speed DNA sequencing technology now allows genomes of bacterial strains to be
analyzed with ease thus potentially leading to the identification of many
potential new targets. The IMI initiative will involve both public funding and
the collaboration of academic institutions and drug companies. Thus it seems to
share in the current trend for pre-competitive collaboration in drug discovery.
While even half a billion dollars may not be enough to bring one or more new
antibiotics all the may through clinical trials and into the marketplace, at
least it seems likely that novel and important new lead compounds will emerge
from this effort.
Despite somewhat of a surge in new drug approvals in 2012
(1) it remains clear that the purely profit driven model of Big Pharma is
failing to address therapeutic areas that are vitally important to public
health (2). Public-private partnerships with more interaction at the
precompetitive level, like the present IMI effort, may help fill those gaps.
(1) K. Jiang. Near-record number of approvals signals drug
development shift. Nature Medicine19:114 (2013)
(2) R.L. Juliano. Pharmaceutical innovation and public
policy: The case for a new strategy for drug discovery and development. Science & Public Policy (epub ahead
of print, 2013)