Antibiotic developers are struggling to stay in business, increasing the risk of superbugs

Drugmakers are finding it increasingly difficult to develop antibiotics while staying in business, but antibiotic-resistant superbugs are an escalating threat in the U.S., according to The Wall Street Journal

Superbugs kill more than 35,000 people in the U.S. each year and sicken 2.8 million, according to CDC data. Bacteria and fungi develop mechanisms to resist older drugs, so new antibiotics are needed to protect against such threats, but drugmakers are struggling to find a business model that allows them to develop the antibiotics. 

Melinta Therapeutics, one of the country's largest drugmakers specializing in antibiotics, filed for bankruptcy in December, citing slow sales growth and high costs, according to the Journal

A primary reason drugmakers are struggling is because physicians aren't motivated  to prescribe new antibiotics, which compete with older, cheaper ones. Antibiotics are also used more carefully now than they used to be, as physicians now know that overuse accelerates drug-resistant bacteria. 

Most antibiotic developers are also smaller companies, which have much less revenue to fund sales and marketing costs. Small antibiotic drugmakers make up more than 90 percent of all antibiotics under development, according to the Journal

Deals such as when Merck acquired antibiotic maker Cubist for $8 billion in 2014 boosted investor interest in antibiotic companies, but most antibiotic companies have not been bought by larger companies. 

The U.S. government has pushed to increase antibiotic development in recent years, providing $1 billion in support since 2010, according to the Journal. 

The Disarm Act, short for Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistant Microorganisms, was introduced last year to have Medicare pay for certain antibiotics. The legislation would provide an immediate positive impact, Ted Schroeder, CEO of Nabriva Therapeutics, a small antibiotics maker, told the Journal

But the bill may be stalled due to impeachment proceedings and the 2020 election. If it isn't passed this year, Mr. Schroeder told the Journal, "it's a pretty bleak future."

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