New superbug underscores anemic antibiotic pipeline

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The World Health Organization is sounding the alarm on a new superbug from India that can destroy the carbapenems antibiotic class, which is often used to treat resistant infections. New Delhi metallobeta-lactamase, or NDM-1 for short, was found in contaminated drinking water in Delhi, India. The infection has already been found in patients in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Britain, according to the Wall Street Journal. It has not yet made its way to the U.S.

The WHO fears NDM-1 could eventually spread, leaving healthcare providers powerless to protect patients. "So much of modern medicine--from gut surgery to cancer treatment, to transplants--depends on our ability to treat infection. If resistance destroys that ability then the whole edifice of modern medicine crumbles," David Livermore of the UK's Health Protection Agency told the WSJ.

In a Reuters report last week, the WHO lamented the biopharma industry's woefully thin pipeline for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, noting that new treatments are at least five years away from FDA approval. But pharma leaders, including AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan (photo), say the industry lacks incentives to develop new drugs to treat these infections. Drugmakers aren't eager to spend tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on development only to face pricing pressures after bringing a new drug to market. Brennan suggested a more open-sourced approach to developing new antibiotics.

- here's the WSJ report

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