A recent report from BIO details challenges in the antibiotic market — and new policy measures that could help.

Next to serious health threats like cancer or dementia, skin and urinary tract infections might seem run-of-the-mill. But antibiotic-resistant infections are a rising threat, killing about 1.2 million people worldwide each year.

A recent industry report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) trade association is sounding the alarm: Unless policy changes encourage more antibacterial drug development, the number of global deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant bugs could grow to an estimated 10 million a year by 2050.

“The key message is that the drug pipeline is thin and it is inadequate to address current resistant threats, let alone the threats in the future that are coming down the pike,” says Emily Wheeler, director of infectious disease policy at BIO. “Absent urgent policy action to stabilize and sustain this antimicrobial ecosystem, we’ll continue to see the collapse within this sector and the inadequacy of the pipeline to treat resistant threats.” 

“The time is now to act,” Wheeler says.

Sluggish drug development

Antibacterial drug development soared in the last century with the discovery of more than 90% of existing drugs, turning once deadly infections into curable conditions. 

But in a twist of fate, the continued use of those vital drugs is causing many bacteria to evolve and evade treatment. This raises the risk that many simple infections now treated with a quick course of antibiotics could once again become life-threatening. 

Drug development is losing the race against antibiotic resistance. The drug pipeline isn’t sufficient to meet the increasing threat, says David Thomas, vice president of industry research for BIO and one of the report’s authors.

“When you break it down into the individual indications where there is antibiotic resistance, there is not enough going on,” Thomas says. 

Antibiotics are more than twice as likely as other drugs to successfully reach the market from early clinical trials — 16.3% of antibacterial drugs make the cut compared with the industry average of 7.9% from 2011 to 2020. But there simply aren’t enough antibiotics in development to meet the need. 

“For each indication, there would need to be way more [drug candidates] than what is currently in the pipeline,” Thomas says. 

Read the full piece at PharmaVoice here.