With new incentives, pharma ramping up antibiotic development

After decades of largely ignoring the antibiotics business, new research incentives from national governments are driving drugmakers to renew efforts to create new infection-fighting medicines, according to Bloomberg.

Until recently, big pharmaceutical companies had largely let go of antibiotic development because it can cost billions of dollars and deliver little profit, as successful formulas are prescribed sparingly to prevent bacterial resistance. Companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and others have either shut down antibiotic research labs or trimmed budgets in the last 15 years, according to the report.

However, that is beginning to change. The U.S. government's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority plans to invest up to $170 million to support antibiotic development at London, England-based AstraZeneca and $200 million at Brentford, England-based GlaxoSmithKline. In 2015, Britain and China established a joint fund to support research aimed at fighting bacterial resistance, according to the report.

"Some large pharmaceutical companies are re-entering the space, and new companies focused on antibacterial development are emerging as industry darlings," said Ankit Mahadevia, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Spero Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company that's developing new treatments for bacterial infections, according to the report.

At the World Economic Forum in January, more than 80 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostics companies, such as Roche, Pfizer, Novartis AG and GlaxoSmithKline, vowed to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance, according to the report.

A Bloomberg survey of 18 of those companies conducted in May and June revealed that they expect to increase spending on antibiotic research by an average of 36 percent this year, and increase staff by 6.5 percent, according to the report.

"There's definitely more activity," said Deborah O'Neil, CEO of Aberdeen, Scotland-based NovaBiotics, which is developing a drug that would make existing antibiotics more effective by weakening bacterial defenses, according to Bloomberg. "Big pharma's eyes are open."

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