False hope for new superbug treatments
Monday, August 04, 2014
The lack of effective treatments for antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" (multidrug-resistant bacteria) represents a serious global healthcare issue with potentially disastrous consequences. In the hopes of finding new treatments, a number of organizations and governments are struggling to secure and provide sufficient financial and nonfinancial incentives to encourage more research.
Outright grants, extending patents, prolonging market exclusivity, regulatory priority and accelerated approvals are all on the table for those who might want to pursue research and development for these difficult-to-treat infections. These are not bad ideas and should stimulate more interest and mitigate some of the challenges researchers and companies may face.
Unfortunately, the fallacy of some of these initiatives is that more money, more companies and more compounds will not deliver the products we need. As with other challenging areas of therapeutic research, the pharmaceutical industry knows all too well that these metrics are, at best, surrogate markers for stimulating successful discovery research.
In fact, the focus on these factors may actually become distractions and derail the real innovative research that will be required to find the novel treatments needed. Here's how.
First, few of these incentives require delivering products that actually have efficacy against "superbug" infections. While the companies may intend or feel they could deliver such products, many of these companies (and especially their executives) will benefit from the incentives without delivering anything that addresses multidrug resistance.
My inference goes beyond "the high risk" associated with drug development. Some, if not many, new compounds will undeservedly consume incentives as well as research and financial resources. And scientists and executives working on them may know full well they have no chance of delivering an effective treatment against these multidrug-resistant bacteria.
Second, these incentives may be perceived by potential investors as an endorsement of the work being proposed or done. Not a bad thing to attract additional investment, except when executives' personal wealth becomes the primary beneficiary with little to show in terms of innovative new products to treat "superbug" infections.
Lastly, news of more companies taking more compounds to later stages of clinical development can give the market false hope that progress is being made. Even approval of new antibiotics with little or no demonstrated benefit over currently-available antibiotics can be misleading.
Unless definitive results show new compounds can actually treat these difficult infections where other treatments have failed or have no chance, progress is not being made. Another antibiotic that merely treats infections as well as what is already on the market is not progress and does not help in this fight against "superbug" infections.
And, they certainly don't warrant or deserve incentives or financial rewards. Just because a company touts its new antimicrobial compound as designed for multidrug-resistant bacteria (to attract investors and incentives), doesn't mean it will be any better than what we have today.
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