The antibiotic drugs that used to kill sophisticated bugs and protect our body from serious diseases like TB or STDs are facing a deep crunch if talk about its market condition or its efficacy.
Serious diseases like gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted disease, used to be easily treatable earlier but now it has developed superbug strains that are drug-resistant. Earlier, this STD was contracted by more than 100 million people a year, it’s now spreading around the planet unabatedly amid inefficiency of the antibiotics. Another serious disease Tuberculosis or TB shares similar tale.
Sally Davies, UK’s chief medical officer, calls the situation an “apocalyptic scenario” of a post-antibiotic era. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for a drastic and an urgent step in this regard.
“We cannot contemplate failure. We have to find something that works for the world,” Davies said during an interview to a news agency in her office in London’s Whitehall.
“This is…not a science issue. This is an issue of markets and economics. A scientist would just get bogged down and not get it,” said Davies.
The condition is more worrisome as it’s no more limited to science, microbes and drugs but has become a global issue of economics and national security.
Tale Of Two Drugs
Witnessing poor returns in the recent decades, the drugmakers slashed investment in antibiotics. The drugmakers say they suffered huge losses from a class of low-priced medicines that are only used for short periods. Many of them have also turned resistant.
U.S. firm, Cubist Pharmaceuticals has an annual research budget for antibiotics of USD 400 million. According to the firm insiders, its bug-killing medicines are severely undervalued.
Johnson & Johnson last year won approval for the first TB drug Sirturo in 40 years. But analysts has predicted its low sales i.e. just USD 75 million this year.
According to drug making companies, it typically takes 15 years to develop a new drug, but the returns are witnessing a slump in the recent times.
World leaders respond to the crisis
The governments and health officials are, however, getting serious about trying to neutralize it. Last week British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a global review of the crisis. He also sought for specific support from U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The British Prime Minister chose former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill to head the review.
The World Health Assembly in Geneva has passed a resolution in May this year, recognizing the pressing need for the world leaders to act in a bid to combat increasing resistance.
What experts say?
The academic and industry experts have a different approach altogether. They say the condition demands a new business model that rewards drug firms for developing new antibiotics even if they are rarely used.
Patrick Vallance, a former academic who now heads up GSK’s pharmaceuticals research, says the answer for this crisis is development of a system of advanced market commitments under which governments would agree to buy up new antibiotics for, say, a 10-year period.
Another solution may be the extension of patents for antibiotics. The antibiotics typically reach peak sales after 13 years on the market as compared to just six for other drugs.
The third solution to the problem may be offering additional market for so-called orphan drugs for rare diseases.
Last but not the least, state support for new drug research may serve as a best way to serve the crisis.