Getting back into antibiotic research? Merck steps it up.

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Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 1.49.58 PMWe at ACSH have been beating this drum for years: The world is getting into serious trouble bad enough to make Ebola seems like athlete s foot because of the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria coupled with a sharp decline in drug discovery research in this area. Some public health officials believe that this is the single biggest threat to global human health one that could take us back to the days before the discovery of penicillin, when death from common diseases such as pneumonia and strep throat was common.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom has written op-eds criticising the drug industry s priorities, as well as a frightening example of how gonorrhea a formerly easily treatable infection is becoming untreatable.

There is no one who follows this topic more closely than ACSH advisor, Dr. David Shlaes, the former director of infectious disease research at Wyeth. His Antibiotics- the perfect storm blog provides the latest in news and commentary about all things antibiotic. Unfortunately, most of the news that Dr. Shlaes reports on has been bad. Yesterday was an exception.

His latest piece entitled Antibiotics go wild and crazy! finally brings us some very good news. Merck announced that they would be buying Cubist one of the small or mid-sized companies that is active in this area. For $9.5 billion, they will get two market products, Cubicin already a $1 billion product and Dificid, which is used to fight C. Diff. as well at the Cubist pipeline.

Dr. Shlaes says, This announcement is bittersweet for me. This clearly continues a string of good news for antibiotics and antibiotic R&D. It is further proof that large pharmaceutical companies now agree that antibiotics can provide a return on investment.

Why bittersweet? On the negative side, there are always the synergies that go along with these mergers.

Dr. Bloom comments, For those of us who have ever worked in the pharmaceutical industry, the word synergy is roughly the equivalent of hearing your doctor say The X-ray shows a spot on your lung, but it s probably nothing. It s right up there with redundancy, strategic decision, and restructure, all of which mean the same thing: Rent, don't buy.

Dr. Shlaes echoes this thought: Will [commitment to research] change or will Merck now go about ridding itself of the Cubist R&D organization to achieve its promised cost-savings?

You can now add cost-savings to the above list.

Despite the potential (certainty?) of job loss, the news is very good, as reflected by Shlaes conclusion: With the re-entry or expansion of large pharma s efforts in antibiotics, the deep pockets of pharma have opened once again. That means that venture capital and perhaps even private equity will now also loosen their purse strings to support new antibiotic research and development. A new golden age for antibiotics is knocking at our door. Lets be sure to welcome it with our ongoing efforts to improve the regulatory and financial climate for new antibiotics.

Let s hope he is correct.