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An Antibiotics Prize?

Pathogenic bacteria are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, writes in an op-ed at the New York Times that a new approach needs to be taken to spur the development of new antibiotics.

According to Emanuel, some 30 percent of severe strep pneumonia infections are multi-drug resistant and about the same percentage of gonorrhea infections are resistant to all antibiotics. 

While there are some 40 new antibiotics in development, Emanuel says that amount pales in comparison to the amount of drugs or vaccines in the pipeline for cancer — 771. He further notes that many large drug companies have shuttered their antibiotic development programs and that smaller biotechs haven't fully taken up the slack.

Expedited review and five extra years of market exclusivity programs have sought to encourage antibiotic development, but Emanuel writes they haven't been that successful. Instead, he argues that the US, possibly in conjunction with the European Union and Japan, should develop a prize similar to the X Prize for companies that develop new antibiotic classes. A prize worth $2 billion to the first five companies or institutions to develop new antibiotics, he says, would not only give them bragging rights, but also provide them with a way to recoup their investment.

"Even if they generated just one new antibiotic class per year, the $2-billion-per-year payment would be a reasonable investment for a problem that costs the health care system $20 billion per year," Emanuel says.