Should antibiotics be developed by the public sector?

We are running out of antibiotics raising the terrifying prospect of untreatable STDs, hospital superbug infections or tuberculosis. Yet because these drugs are not profitable enough, development by drug companies has almost dried up.

So let the public sector research and develop them says a BMJ article. Good idea and what about doing the same for some other promising but unprofitable non-drug treatments too?

Just in case you think claiming drug companies won’t develop antibiotics because they aren’t profitable enough – essentially because they cure you quickly – is anti-drug propaganda, it’s not. It’s a perfectly sound commercial response . The mistake is thinking companies have a humanitarian agenda.

One solution being seriously proposed is to give then more money,which I wrote about in the Daily Mail before Christmas. In the States there’s a bill before Congress which will allow drugs to have a patent extension if they develop new antibiotics. The objection to this, says the BMJ article, is that it would encourage “aggressive promotion and inevitable misuse.”

Instead the article proposes that “antibiotic development should be the responsibility of the public sector”. One model for this has been projects to find treatments for unprofitable tropical diseases.

Five new treatments for the likes of malaria and sleeping sickness have been developed for a mere 100 million euros. The key to this has been “delinking investment from the need to deliver financial returns.”

So a clear humanitarian need being met at a cost that is a small fraction of the cost usually claimed from bringing a drug to market. Our humanitarian need is ways to deal with the major chronic killers largely caused by unhealthy lifestyles.

Yet all the research and developments goes on developing new drugs to deal with them. What results might come from a 100 million research and development program for  effective   lifestyle approaches?  The 10 Secrets of Healthy Ageing’ has references for dozens that are very promising. There is one that could slow down the progression to Alzheimer’s for a start.

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