There's an interesting story today by AP Health writer Matthew Perrone that delves into reasons why little is spent on antimicrobial drug discovery in the US. His hypothesis is that funding for orphan drugs is crowding out antibiotic drug discovery in the private sector, forcing the US Government into action. The evidence offered is compelling, including the fact that 11 of the 30 new drugs approved last year were for rare medical conditions, the highest level since FDA incentives began about 30 years ago. These incentives include extra patent protections, higher pricing and a streamlined FDA review. The results speak for themselves: the first new SLE therapy in 50 years and first new Hodgkin's therapy in 30 years.
However, the evidence that this is actually spurring US-government funded antimicrobial drug discovery is weak. We're offered the somewhat misleading fact that "since 2006, government spending on research for familiar diseases like staph infections, smallpox** and botulism** has increased more than 660 percent, from $54 million to $415 million last year." OK...so what does this have to do with antimicrobial discovery?
To further highlight the dearth of investment in antibiotic discovery, we have this quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci: "We have pushed the envelope more toward diminishing the risk for companies so that they'll be more interested in getting involved with us and developing things like vaccines and antivirals." To be fair, he cold be talking about the mythical Staph vaccine. But seriously, whatever happened to "eschew obfuscation, espouse elucidation"?
The rest of the article highlights new investment in therapies for tularemia and agents of bioterror and new flu-vaccine manufacturing techniques. I had my hopes up for a minute.
**Note: There are on average 110 cases of botulism in the US every year and zero cases of smallpox. This compares to 19,000 DEATHS from MRSA per year, which would be at least twice that high if we included MSSA. Familar does not equal common.
Source: Matthew Perrone, SFGate (AP) 1/25/2012