HughPickens.com writes Every year at least two million people are infected with bacteria that can’t be wiped out with antibiotics but the number of F.D.A.-approved antibiotics has decreased steadily in the past two decades. Now.Ezekiel J. Emanuel writes at the NYT that the problem with the development of new antibiotics is profitability. “There’s no profit in it, and therefore the research has dried up, but meanwhile bacterial resistance has increased inexorably and there’s still a lot of inappropriate use of antibiotics out there,” says Ken Harvey. Unlike drugs for cholesterol or high blood pressure, or insulin for diabetes, which are taken every day for life, antibiotics tend to be given for a short time so profits have to be made on brief usage. “Even though antibiotics are lifesaving, they do not command a premium price in the marketplace,” says Emanuel. “As a society we seem willing to pay $100,000 or more for cancer drugs that cure no one and at best add weeks or a few months to life. We are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for knee surgery that, at best, improves function but is not lifesaving. So why won’t we pay $10,000 for a lifesaving antibiotic?” Emanuel says that we need to use prize money as an incentive. “What if the United States government — maybe in cooperation with the European Union and Japan — offered a $2 billion prize to the first five companies or academic centers that develop and get regulatory approval for a new class of antibiotics?” Because it costs at least $1 billion to develop a new drug, the prize money could provide a 100 percent return — even before sales. “From the government perspective, such a prize would be highly efficient: no payment for research that fizzles. Researchers win only with an approved product. Even if they generated just one new antibiotic class per year, the $2-billion-per-year payment would be a reasonable investment for a problem that costs the health care system $20 billion per year.” Unless payers and governments are willing to provide favorable pricing for such a drug, the big companies are going to focus their R&D investments in areas like cancer, depression, and heart disease where the return-on-investments are much higher.
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