We are currently facing an antibiotic crisis. Bacteria are evolving at an unprecedented pace, drug stocks are dwindling, and everyday people are dying from infections that were once completely treatable. One of the main ways to combat this crisis is to development of new antibiotics, but the rate of withdrawals from drug developments is double the rate of introductions. The reason for this is fairly simple: money

In a study published in Drug Discovery Today, a team of researchers investigated what factors were behind pharmaceutical companies’ progressive withdrawal from antibacterial developments. Unfortunately, researchers concluded that the reason for this is largely financially based. Lead researcher Michael Kinch and his team found that the current model for drug development seriously hindered actual drug development. As explained in a recent press release, patent law gives a company 20 years of protection for a new drug, but it takes around 11 years of clinical trial experience for a drug to get approved. Although, theoretically, this patent law helps push the drugs to get developed in a reasonable amount of time, it also only gives the companies around nine years to earn back the development costs before a generic comes in. In the pharmaceutical world, nine years just isn’t enough.

Since overprescription is one of the main factors that got us into this antibiotics crisis in the first place, most doctors aren’t as keen to prescribe drugs as they once were. What we are now seeing if many doctors holding antibiotics in reserve and saving theme for a worst case scenario. These causes even further problems for drug development companies.

“When you hold a drug in reserve,” Kinch said, “you’re eating into the patent time a company has to recoup its development costs.” Drugs are not being used as fast as they could potentially be created, and as a results, companies are no longer creating them. “If you’ve got this vancomycin-like situation, where the drug is sitting on a shelf—quite literally sitting on a shelf—how is a company going to make its money back? It can’t price the drug at $10,000 a dose,” Kinch added.

The unequal balance between drug creation and drug use has resulted into today messy situation we find ourselves in today. The number of antibiotics available for clinical use has declined to 96 from a peak of 113 in 2000, the study reads. Pharmaceutical companies are rapidly leaving the field of antibiotic discovery and development and subsequently, people keep dying. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that 23,000 people died from antibiotics resistant infections last year and this number is only believed to rise, unless changes are made.

We can’t force private pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs, the drug development industry. One way to do this is to disconnect the costs of development from the sale of pills. Rather than companies making revenue from the sale of pills, governments can offer large prizes for drug development. This model has already been demonstrated in the UK with their Longitude Prize 2014.Kinch also plans to help address the situation and is co-founder of the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, a group dedicated to uncovering new ways to combat this problem.

Source: Kinch MS, Patridge E, Plummer M, Hoyer D. An analysis of FDA-approved drugs for infectious disease: antibacterial agents. Drug Discovery Today. 2014