Last week The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an official warning regarding the world’s supply of antibiotic medications, according to a report in The New York Times. WHO stated that the industrial pipeline for new antibiotic drugs is significantly slowing as profitability in this area decreases for drug companies.
In two separate reports released by the WHO (one that analyzed products being tested on patients and another that looked at therapies in the early stages of development), the agency noted that current conditions could lead us into both an economic and health global crises.
Microbial infections are constantly evolving, which can make treating them a difficult task for drug companies to keep up with. This, in addition to the fact that antimicrobial drugs are not nearly as profitable as other medications (because they are taken temporarily and not over a lifetime, like HIV medications for example), has caused many drug companies to go belly up and left a huge hole in the market. Several U.S. drug companies with promising new antibiotic products — like Melinta Therapeutics, Achaogen, and Aradigm — have gone bankrupt or closed their doors in recent months, adding to the looming crisis.
A dangerous trend, warned WHO in two separate reports on the topic, since some 700,000 people die each year because drugs that once cured their conditions are now no long effective. Still, the majority of new antimicrobial products currently in development worldwide (about 60) are just variants of already existing treatments — and only a handful of those target the world’s most dangerous drug-resistant infections. Because of all this, WHO stated that research and development of new microbial drugs is more essential than ever, and that government intervention may be the only solution.
Without such intervention, the outlook looks grim. The United Nations estimates that resistant infections could kill up to 10 million people a year by 2050 — which could also prompt an economic slowdown comparable to the global financial crisis of 2008.
“We urgently need research and development,” said Sarah Paulin, technical officer of Antimicrobial Resistance and Innovation at WHO. “We still have a window of opportunity but we need to ensure there is investment now so we don’t run out of options for future generations.”