Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Let’s Gang Up on Killer Bugs.
What makes the rapid loss of antibiotics to drug resistance particularly alarming is that we are failing to make new ones. We are emptying our medicine chest of the most important class of medicines we ever had.
One of the big problems is the economics of drug development today.
Historically, the drug industry thrived on antibiotics. But if an antibiotic is useful against only one type of bacterium, relatively few people need it during its patent life. And if an antibiotic is “broad spectrum,” meaning it works on many different types of bacteria, wider use shortens its commercial life because it quickens the pace at which bacteria develop resistance. Moreover, antibiotics are designed to cure an acute disease — not to palliate a chronic one — so people need them only for a limited time. Compared with drugs that are used for years to treat widespread conditions like high cholesterol or asthma, antibiotics pale as a corporate investment.
The article contains some suggestions for a better way forward from collaborative drug research to a different economic model.
There are, however, other ways for drug makers to profit beyond using monopoly to protect prices. As Thomas Pogge of Yale and Aidan Hollis of the University of Calgary have pointed out, an intergovernmental fund for drug discovery could reward drug makers for products in proportion to their impact in reducing the loss of healthy years of life. The lower the cost of a lifesaving drug, the greater the number of people who could use it; the more lives protected, then, the greater the monetary reward. An investment of $20 billion a year could encourage more open-lab collaborations to find new medicines in challenging settings like antibiotic discovery and make them accessible to all who need them.