Incentives mulled for drugmakers to target superbugs

Alarmed by the spread of the supposed “superbugs” — bacteria that resist modern antibiotics — politicians from both parties are considering policies to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to develop new antibiotics. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a physician, recently introduced the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now bill, which would extend patent protections for antibiotics for five additional years and speed reviews by the FDA. Rep. Henry Waxman tells The New York Times he’s also considering introducing a bill.

Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, tells the Times that new antibiotics are desperately needed to fight bugs like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). “For these infections, we’re back to dancing around a bubbling cauldron while rubbing two chicken bones together,” Dr. Spellberg said.

Dr. Ross agrees these antibiotic-resistant bugs are increasing dramatically in frequency and says incentives for developing new treatments are urgently needed, and indeed overdue. “Financial incentives need to be employed, such as extending patent protection for five more years, and regulatory approvals need to be expedited—such delays cost money and lives. Pharmaceutical companies don’t work in a fairytale of charitable giving — they have to see some light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

There have only been five new antibiotics approved by the FDA from 2003 to 2007, one of which, Tygacil, was co-invented by our own Dr. Bloom when he was at Wyeth. By comparison, 16 new antibiotics were approved during the period from 1983 to 1987.