Blog | Friday, April 3, 2015

Antibiotic discovery: 2 steps back?

We've written often about the need for new antibiotic classes, so called antimicrobial discovery. Over the past 3 to 4 years there have been significant U.S. efforts and European efforts to expand the search for novel antibiotics. Well, as they say, 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

The Boston Business Journal is reporting that Merck is closing Cubist's entire 120-person early drug discovery unit. Per the report, “Merck remains committed to the development of antibiotic drugs, and an unspecified number of drugs still in pre-clinical testing will continue development in other sites. All of Cubist's drugs in clinical trials will continue to be developed.”

On the other side, Derek Lowe over at Seeking Alpha, a crowd-sourced financial site, writes: ”So anyone who thought that this might be about some sort of long-term commitment to antibiotic discovery, well, think again. This is about getting Cubist's existing drugs, back to some unspecified point in development, but the discovery work gets raked off into the compost pile.

I suspect many others will be upset with Merck's move. Given the oversized role that Cubist has played in antibiotic discovery recently, the unit's closure is frustrating. Where will new antibiotics come from if large pharmaceutical companies do not invest in novel antimicrobial discovery? Maybe they just aren't the right place.

Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands). This post originally appeared at the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.