Conventional antibiotics are ineffective against multi-resistant bacteria. The world needs new substances, but few new antibiotics are currently in development. To speed up the research process, 20 pharmaceutical companies – including Boehringer Ingelheim – are jointly investing nearly a billion US dollars.
Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is not only dominating headlines; it also seems to be occupying all the energy of the international research community. Yet the world is on the verge of another health crisis: antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It is increasingly difficult or even impossible to treat bacterial infections with today’s antibiotics because the germs have developed resistance to conventional substances. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has referred to antibiotic resistance as a “slow tsunami that threatens to undo a century of medical progress.” Routine procedures such as knee operations could become life-threatening – like they used to be in the 19th century – for want of reliable antibiotics to prevent infections.
An increasing number of bacterial infections can hardly be treated or are untreatable with today’s antibiotics.
Resistance is a natural consequence of evolution. It develops because a few bacteria always survive whenever antibiotics are used. These bacteria are immune against that particular medicine and can thus spread.
Substances are still available, even for treatment of “superbugs”, so there is not yet an acute need for new antibiotics. New antibiotics are used sparingly in order to preserve their effectiveness. Moreover, new substances require lengthy and expensive basic research.
Innovative substances are lacking, and the world urgently needs new antibiotics. Yet only a few are currently in the pipeline. There are several reasons for this: Research in the field of new antibiotic substances is scientifically complex and very expensive – and the outcome of such projects is very uncertain. At the moment, most bacterial diseases can still be treated with conventional antibiotics. The few new antibiotics that are available are being used sparingly in order to preserve their effectiveness. Paradoxically, this has prompted a number of biotechnology companies specializing in antibiotics research to withdraw from this field. Some have even gone bankrupt: Though there is long-term demand, there has been no market for their products. “Valuable expertise and important resources have thus been lost,” remarks Hubertus von Baumbach, Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors of Boehringer Ingelheim.
The pharmaceutical industry is aware of the problem and mindful of the impending crisis. Therefore, 20 pharmaceutical companies have established the joint “AMR Action Fund”. The fund has been endowed with nearly a billion US dollars of risk capital for biotechnology companies – and Boehringer Ingelheim is also participating in it. “The objective is to create incentives and help bring at least two to four novel antibiotics to the market until 2030,” says von Baumbach. “We see this initiative as a stimulus for the global community.” The fund is also working with governments. “This will help us ensure that a sustainable pipeline of new antibiotics is available in the fight against so-called superbugs,” comments von Baumbach. The issue is important, even though it rarely makes the headlines.
20 major pharmaceutical companies including Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, and Merck.
Around one billion US dollars.
The AMR Action Fund invests in small biotechnology companies and supports them by contributing expertise in clinical research, production, approval procedures, and marketing.
The goal is to promote the development of new antibiotics. By 2030, at least two to four new antibiotics against resistant germs are to be developed.