As global concern over antibiotic-resistant bacteria intensifies, pharmaceutical companies have been slow to invest in the pursuit of next-generation antibiotics — a venture that is both expensive and unprofitable.
But a nonprofit group called TB Alliance took on the task of developing a new antibiotic for drug-resistant tuberculosis and succeeded with a pretomanid.
According to The Washington Post, the treatment won approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.
About 500,000 of the 1.6 million people who die from tuberculosis each year are stricken by antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease, The Post reported.
Researchers are hopeful that the success of TB Alliance will inspire further drug development, particularly as drug-resistant bacteria increasingly threaten the health of people worldwide.
The United Nations estimates as many 10 million annual deaths from drug-resistant infections by the year 2050 if no mitigating action is taken.
But for the most part, drug companies are not looking into new antibiotic development: such an undertaking can cost more than $1 billion but is unlikely to offer a meaningful return on the investment.
Drug makers are more inclined to stick with “drugs for chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, or specialty drugs that can reap hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in revenue per dose.”
This is the advantage of nonprofits like TB Alliance, as its CEO recently noted.
“We can have a huge impact on the lives of people who are afflicted and also take a major step ultimately toward, really, the eradication of a disease like TB,” said Mel Spigelman, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive. “One definite advantage of a not-for-profit is you don’t have to look at things like returning your profits into shareholders.”
TB Alliance said “95 of its first 107 patients in its clinical trial had a successful outcome after six months of treatment” with pretomanid, which is part of a three-drug regimen.
Drug-resistant TB has afflicted people in more than 120 countries, the World Health Organization reports, and it is generally treated with a slew of drugs.