I have spent my career as a biomedical entrepreneur working to develop products that have the potential to save lives while also generating returns for shareholders. Two years ago, I co-founded a new company, Octagon Therapeutics, focused on a critical unmet medical need and a growing market opportunity: more effective antibiotics. It turned out to be a disaster.

We invested significant resources into developing a promising treatment for infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria. These “superbugs,” which do not respond to most existing antibiotics, are responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths each year. If current trends continue, drug-resistant bacteria will be the leading global cause of death by 2050.

Given those scenarios, we expected to have no problem finding investors to finance our venture. The infectious disease clinicians we spoke with were clamoring for new treatment options, and the pipeline of new antibiotics in development was shockingly sparse. What’s more, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had just released a prioritized list of the most dangerous bacterial pathogens. One of Octagon’s experimental therapies showed a high level of in vivo activity against Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter bacteria, number one and two on the WHO hit list.

Our pitch to investors was simple: We have discovered a compound that has the potential to be the first example of a novel antibiotic class. It has proved effective in animal models and has been shown to be safe in humans.

Investor after investor turned us down. Antibiotics, they said, were practically guaranteed money losers.

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