A pulmonary critical care doctor with experience in infectious disease says it will take a sustained effort to be ready for the next global health emergency.
Before I joined Roche, my last job was at a small startup company outside of Boston, developing novel antibiotics to treat serious multidrug resistant bacterial infections. A lot of investment went into this space over the past 10 or 15 years.
Thought leaders from academics, industry, and regulatory bodies recognised the potential for a really serious global health emergency, because of the simple reality that bacteria are developing resistance faster than we're developing new antibiotics. It's already happening in parts of the world, but the idea that this could continue to spread around the world was really alarming.
So they worked together to create incentives for industry to develop new antibiotics. And a whole slew of small companies popped up, started developing new antibiotics and got them approved, only to realise that it's really not possible to sustain a business selling antibiotics. That's why companies stopped developing antibiotics in the first place.
But the bacteria, they don't care. They continue to develop a resistance to antibiotics, resulting in millions of infections and tens of thousands of excess deaths per year.
So the global threat is still there, but one by one, the companies are going under and antibiotic development is grinding to a halt again. So we're kind of back right where we started from.
The point of the story? If we want to be prepared for the next global health emergency, whether it's multidrug1 resistant bacteria or the next pandemic virus, it really takes a sustained effort and commitment on every level. That includes finding ways to make the efforts economically viable.
In June, Roche joined a coalition of more than 20 pharmaceutical companies planning to invest more than $1 billion to fight the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant infections. The AMR Action Fund aims to develop two to four new antibiotics by 2030.