“Pull incentives such as high cost of therapy and longer exclusivity periods, similar to those granted for orphan drugs, are needed to promote the development of new antimicrobials” says Severin Schwan, chairman of the board of directors of Roche.

Schwan was speaking about the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting taking place from 15–19 January 2024 in Davos, Switzerland. Shyam Bishen, head of the Centre for Health and Healthcare at the World Economic Forum, noted at the same discussion that AMR is the third leading cause of death globally and is forecasted to be responsible for 10 million deaths annually in 2050.

Schwan said most companies have left the antimicrobial sector as they perceive that there is no sustainable business model. “The research and development subsidiaries offered by various governments to develop antimicrobials are a waste of money and are not worth it to pharmaceutical companies,” said Schwan.

Adding that antimicrobials need to be treated as orphan drugs and similar incentives need to drug developers to renew interest in the field. He cautioned that new antibiotics will be priced at a considerably higher price point compared to the generics that currently dominate the market.

Over-prescription has been cited as one of the causes of AMR. Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, stated that one in three European citizens are taking antimicrobials, with 40% of the citizens believing that viruses can be treated by using antibiotics, according to a Eurobarometer survey. Schwan stated that the use of diagnostic tests to identify pathogens can decrease the misuse of antibiotics. Adding that these tests are cheap and easily available.

In recent months, multiple companies have invested in developing antibiotic therapies. In September 2023, Novo Holding acquired Boston-based Paratek Pharmaceuticals to bolster its AMR expertise. Paratek’s portfolio consisted of Nuzyra (omadacycline), a marketed once-a-day oral and intravenous antibiotic indicated for community-acquired bacterial pneumonia (CABP) and acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections (ABSSSI).

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