Overprescription and indiscriminate use of a particular class of drugs is leading to the problem of micro-organisms developing resistance to medicines. This is creating major roadblocks in bringing novel molecules to the market.
Once considered a prime therapeutic segment for pharma players, antibiotics or anti-bacterials are steadily losing importance with less and less research being done to bring out new and more effective molecules.
Antibiotics are drugs that prevent the growth of bacteria. As per figures World Health Organization (WHO) figures, about 50% of all antibiotics prescribed and used are unnecessary and amount to overuse.
Khusrav Bajan, head of department (internal medicine) at PD Hinduja Hospital, said due to this indiscriminate use, bacteria are becoming resistant to newer antibiotics. "And this is making it all the more difficult to research and get new drugs," said Bajan.
Industry estimates, however, peg the anti-bacterial market at over $45 billion by 2012.
An industry observer who has worked with MNC drugmakers said, "The last few years have seen companies like Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Roche, Wyeth, Sanofi Aventis lower their research in new anti-bacterials. This segment has lost its appeal."
The most recent antibiotics have been tigecycline (Wyeth), linezolid (Pfizer), daptomycin (discovered by Eli Lilly & Co and owned by Cubist Pharmaceuticals), and retapaumulin (GSK).
British major GSK, which has a robust novel drug pipeline with 8-9 molecules each in areas such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, neurosciences and vaccines, has just two molecules in phase I for bacterial infections.
Even Indian pharma companies, which have become aggressive on research to bring novel drugs to the market, appear to be dragging their feet in anti-bacterials.
Bhavin Shah, a research analyst from Dolat Capital Market, said, "Nowadays, companies are looking at more value driven areas like cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc."
However, some Indian players such as Dr Reddy's Laboratories, Ranbaxy and Wockhardt have novel anti-bacterial molecules in their portfolios.
CH Ram, head (investor relations) at Chennai based Orchid Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, the global leader in the antibiotic cephalosporin, said, "For us, anti-bacterials is a key area and research will happen here."
Orchid had recently entered into an alliance with Merck to identify and develop novel anti-bacterial drug candidates.