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Discovery & Development Drug Discovery, Business Practice, Small Molecules

The Sleeping Giant

Most professionals in the pharma industry are well aware that the lack of innovation in antibiotic development is a serious problem. But, with few solutions, a head-in-the-sand response is too tempting. The business reality of the situation is pretty clear: there is no profit in antibiotic R&D and making drugs at a loss is not good for a company’s future.  

That said, there is no shortage of fascinating work on new antibiotics happening in the research community – and there are plenty of untapped natural reserves that may harbor promising new avenues (fish slime, soil, and fungus, to name just a few). There are also many government sponsored initiatives and funding opportunities designed to kickstart the development of promising new antibiotics. But given that the industry has been talking about the antibiotic apocalypse for years (indeed, the topic was featured in the very first issue of The Medicine Maker: and little has changed, it’s high time for a serious reassessment. New research will be useless if there are no commercial prospects enticing enough to wake the sleeping giant. With the collective intelligence and technologies of the pharma industry, we could work our way to treasure-trove of new antibiotics. But “treasure” means different things to different stakeholders…

I was interested to see an announcement in the UK about a new subscription payment model that aims to incentivize the development of new drugs for resistant infections. Instead of a drug company being paid based on the volume of antibiotics sold, companies would still be paid even if the drug was stored for reserves. The country’s National Health Service is calling for companies to identify products to be considered for the initial phase of the test. The project will be evaluated from the very beginning, and the findings shared with the rest of the world so that other healthcare systems can test similar models.

It is refreshing to see the problem being looked at from a different angle – and to see a healthcare system stepping up. But it would also be good to see (big) pharma being more proactive in suggesting other innovative approaches that could help fund R&D for vital – though currently commercially unattractive – products.

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  1. Department of Health and Social Care, “Development of new antibiotics encouraged with new pharmaceutical payment system,” (2019). Available at Last accessed July 30, 2019.
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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