Bugs May Be Regaining the Upper Hand Over Once Effective Antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance and rare diseases were among the topics explored by a panel of scientists and pharmaceutical industry representatives in Marburg, Germany.

By Dr. Lutz Bonacker

May 8, 2017

Philipps University of Marburg, Germany, where members of the scientific and pharmaceutical communities examined a range of timely topics.

Earlier this year I joined distinguished members of the scientific and pharmaceutical communities for an academic panel hosted by Philipps University of Marburg, Germany, where CSL Behring operates a manufacturing and R&D facility for recombinant and plasma-derived coagulation factors, C-1 inhibitor and critical care products.

A number of takeaways emerged from the panel’s examination of several timely topics, including collaboration between industry and academia and the healthcare industry’s economic impact on the Hesse region of Germany. But no topic held more global significance than our discussion of antibiotic-resistances, rare diseases, and current approaches to neglected infectious diseases.

Hessian Health Minister Stefan Grüttner set the stage in his welcome address, summarising what he considers to be the most urgent challenge in healthcare – pathogens that doctors have long been able to treat with antibiotics that are suddenly regaining the upper hand. This can occur when genes mutate and cause microbes that are resistant to antibiotics to develop. And when certain other conditions are present, a superbug that is resistant to an entire class of antibiotics can emerge.

Pathogens that doctors have long been able to treat that are suddenly regaining the upper hand.

Minister Grüttner cited studies that estimate in Europe alone, 25,000 people die as a result of antibiotic resistances every year. He emphasized the urgency of taking steps to reduce resistances and develop new effective antibiotics. Germany has been particularly proactive in this area. The Federal State of Hesse has initiated an effort to address the optimisation of research and development in the area of antibiotic resistances. Germany’s federal government also addresses this issue in the law on improving pharmaceutical-based healthcare.

Panel members Dr. Lutz Bonacker (left) and Prof. Katja Becker (right).

Grüttner emphasised that no one can fight infectious diseases alone, and that a network of stakeholders in academia and the industry is required. This led to a discussion of the social responsibility of academia and the industry to fight rare and neglected diseases. Fellow panel member, physician and vice president of the German Research Foundation, Prof. Katja Becker, pointed out rare and neglected diseases affect one billion people worldwide. “These diseases are often the result of poverty, violent conflicts and migration,” Katja added, “and climate change also plays a role.”

“These diseases are often the result of poverty, violent conflicts, and migration.”

Panel member Frank Gotthardt from Merck said the availability of pharmaceuticals is an economic factor. “When people are sick, a society cannot develop,” he said. “The pharmaceutical industry is not only a cost factor for the healthcare system,” Frank noted, “but also a value-adding factor.” In regard to developing countries, which are especially affected by infectious diseases, he proposes that the focus of development cooperation should be on strengthening the healthcare system, as health is critical to the social and economic development of these countries.

The panelists agreed there is no satisfactory solution to the problem of how to make vaccines and medicines accessible for people in developing countries. For example, an estimated 6.9 million people around the world are living with a bleeding disorder. Of these, 75 percent remain undiagnosed and receive inadequate care or no care at all, according to the World Federation of Hemophilia. While the panel members agreed the pharmaceutical industry has a social responsibility to help developing countries, we also recognized that protecting the health and well-being of people is a primary responsibility of their government.

Protecting the health and well-being of people is a primary responsibility of their government.

In view of a movement in some countries toward joint negotiation of drug prices among nations, panel members urged politicians to focus on innovations rather than on costs. What is often missing in statements about the cost of medicines and in proposed solutions is an answer to the question, ‘What is the value of pharmaceutical products to patients and the healthcare system versus the cost?’ This is where the focus needs to be placed so that appropriate policy decisions can be made based on patient benefits, savings to the healthcare system that drugs provide, economic value, and the need to sustain biopharmaceutical innovation, rather than a singular focus on costs.

The panel was presented by the Marburg Bio and Nanotechnology Initiative, the Hesse Health Industry Initiative, and House of Pharma and Healthcare.

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Dr. Lutz Bonacker is CSL Behring’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Operations Europe

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