Why isn’t pharma making blockbuster antibiotics?

It seems intuitive that there would be a large market for new, highly-effective antibiotics.  Doctors are warning publicly about the waning effectiveness of today’s antibiotics owing to over-prescription and increased drug resistance.

The linked article even mentions that a course of action could be to provide government incentives to the industry to make new antibiotics.  But where the market creates a profit potential, why would government incentives be necessary in the first place?

I had never heard a suitable explanation for this situation until recently, in a conversation, the following theory was advanced:  if new wonder drugs are developed, they will be “held back” by doctors seeking to establish last-line-of-defense antibiotics, and will therefore not be heavily prescribed, dramatically limiting profitability.

Does the above explanation make sense?  Is there more to the story?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.




3 Replies to “Why isn’t pharma making blockbuster antibiotics?”

  1. I think there is some truth to the claim that pharmaceutical companies haven’t developed many new antibiotics because doctors might not use them drug much. But not necessary because doctors will intentionally hold them in reserve for use as “last-line-of-defense antibiotics”. I suspect doctors will mostly prescribe whatever they think will work best for their patients, rather than thinking of a greater common good. (That’s how the problem of increased drug resistance has come about in the first place.)

    The issue, I think, is that there are just so many antibiotics currently available in a competitive market. For most uses, low cost generic antibiotics with a long history of established medical use will continue to be widely used rather than expensive new medicines. Despite the sometimes overdramatic claims of an impending rise of superbugs, the medical need for new antibiotics to treat resistant strains of bacteria is simply not great enough to entice pharmaceutical companies to invest in the expensive process of bringing a new antibiotic to market.

    So I would rephrase the claim as: if new wonder drugs are developed, they won’t be needed much by doctors and patients, and will therefore not be heavily prescribed, dramatically limiting profitability.

  2. Making an blockbuster antibiotics is not just in the hands of pharma companies. This is more to do with the government policies too.
    I think the responsibility lies on the shoulder of FDA to take collective steps to enhance the manufacturing sectors by easing the rules.

  3. Thank you both for your insightful comments. Michael, it seems from your comment that this is perhaps another case of the media making a situation sound more dire than it really is.

    Prkralex, I agree that the FDA regulations add tremendous cost to bringing a new drug to market, although that may be an issue with any type of drug, not just antibiotics.

    Any other thoughts from readers?

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