Antibiotic makers struggle, hurting war on superbugs

The companies that have stepped up to tackle the rising threat of drug-resistant superbugs are struggling financially. Makers of newly approved antibiotic drugs are struggling to generate sales because doctors prescribe the treatments sparingly.

The companies that have stepped up to tackle the rising threat of drug-resistant superbugs are struggling financially. Makers of newly approved antibiotic drugs are struggling to generate sales because doctors prescribe the treatments sparingly. The new drugs compete with older, cheaper products, and patients typically take them for only a short period of time. Hospitals are incentivized to choose the lower-priced option. Insurers pay hospitals a fixed fee for treating a patient with an infection, regardless of which drugs are used. While new antibiotics cost much less than new drugs for cancer or heart disease, they compete with older antibiotics that cost just a few dollars per dose. The antibiotics specialists Melinta Therapeutics filed for bankruptcy in late December, citing slow sales growth and high costs. Achaogen collapsed in April, less than a year after it launched a new antibiotic for difficult-to-treat urinary-tract infections. Other makers might soon face a similar fate, saying their cash will run out before the end of 2020. "We don’t know the fate of those drugs for our patients," says Helen Boucher, chief of infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "As a physician, that’s my biggest concern."