More than 80 pharmaceutical, diagnostic and biotech firms are calling for increased government investment of new antibiotic drugs to address the growing threat posed by drug-resistant infections coupled with dwindling innovation of new treatments.
Some of the world's leading drugmakers, including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer, signed a declaration (PDF) released Thursday during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They pledged to work with governments to promote greater antibiotic stewardship of existing antimicrobial medications to reduce their overuse.
“Antibiotic resistance is the sort of global healthcare challenge that this industry should be using its expertise to tackle,” Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, said in a written statement.
The declaration calls for companies and governments to collaborate on new market models that would incentivize drugmakers by mitigating the financial risks involved in the research and development of new antibiotics. Drugmakers also want to create alternative payment models such as lump sums that would reduce the link between revenues and the amount of antibiotics sold.
Antibiotics don't generate the kind of revenue usually associated with new drugs. The clinical goal of prescribing them sparingly to patients makes them less lucrative than medications that are meant to be used continuously for years.
A 2013 study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that the number of new antibiotics approved annually in the U.S. has declined for more than two decades. The analysis found only two new antibiotics have been approved between 2008 and 2012 compared with 16 between 1983 and 1987.
According to data collected by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an estimated 39 new antibiotics were in clinical development for the U.S. market as of September 2015, with two–Zerbaxa from Cubist Pharmaceuticals and Allergan's Avycaz—gaining approval within the past 18 months.
Signatories also pledged to spend more on researching and developing new antibiotics, diagnostics, vaccines and other alternative treatments. They also committed to encourage more judicious use of such medications in livestock, which have helped animals gain weight without increasing their food consumption.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, annual sales and distribution of antibiotics for use in livestock increased between 2013 and 2014 despite regulators' efforts to limit the use of such medications solely for the treatment of disease.
For years, health experts have warned of overusing existing antibiotics as few new antibiotics are developed.
There are about 2 million cases each year of U.S. residents acquiring infections that are resistant to antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF). That results in 23,000 annual deaths.
In March, the White House unveiled a five-year plan to fight the threat of antimicrobial resistance bacteria with a focus on prevention and containment of drug-resistant infection outbreaks.