Over the past decade, pull incentives as a solution to the broken antibiotic market have been proposed to entice companies into antibiotic research and development. These incentives would essentially provide a market, and therefore a return on investment for pharmaceutical companies. Almost all of today’s inadequate antibiotic pipeline is provided by biotech and small pharma. All are threatened with loss of investor interest because of the failed marketplace and many are experiencing difficulty in raising funds either from public or private markets. One alternative to providing money to the “evil” pharmaceutical industry via a substantial pull incentive is to create publicly funded non-profit organizations or public-private ventures that would essentially replace the industry in antibiotic research, development and commercialization. Two proponents of this approach are Lord Jim O’Neill (of the O’Neill Commission or Antimicrobial Resistance Review fame) and Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy and of GARDP. Both, clearly, are key thought leaders in the area.
Major companies on the scene include Second Genome, Enterome, and EpiBiome. In addition, several new startups have entered the field. Amongst the most active investors, Global Engage reports, are Seventure Partners, Flagship Pioneering and BioGaia. In fact there are some 120 companies investing in analyzing data relating to the human microbiome. To take one example, companies such as uBiome are developing genomic tests meant to identify and diagnose harmful microbes in the body.
Antibiotic R&D has had a particularly bad year starting with The Medicines Company who abandoned their antibiotic R&D efforts and sold their antibiotic assets to Melinta late last year right after getting approval for vabomere. This year both Sanofi and Novartis abandoned their antibiotic R&D efforts and divested their clinical and preclinical assets. Allergan, holder of the North American rights to ceftaroline, dalbavancin and ceftazidime-avibactam, also announced that they would divest their antibiotic assets. I have not heard that they were successful. Achaogen has now undergone two efforts at “restructuring” involving virtually eliminating all R&D and has essentially put up the “for sale” sign just after achieving approval for plazomicin. Finally, Melinta abandoned their antibiotic R&D efforts in the face of miserable sales of their recently launched antibiotics including delafloxacin and vabomere.
Over the last five years the interest of pharmaceutical professionals towards machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) has measurably increased -- while only one “AI-related” research collaboration involving “big pharma” appeared in the news in 2013, the number of such events increased up to 21 in 2017 alone, involving some of the top pharma players like GSK, Sanofi, Abbvie, Genentech, etc.
(Last updated 08.10.2018)
The type of artificial intelligence (AI) which scares some of the greatest minds, like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, is called “general artificial intelligence” -- the one which can “think” pretty much like humans do, and which can quickly evolve into a dangerous “superintelligence”. There is a notion that it might be invented in the nearest decades, but today we are definitely not there yet. The AI which is making headlines these days is a “narrow artificial intelligence”, a limited type of machine “intelligence” able to solve only a specific task or a group of tasks. It can’t go anywhere beyond specifics of the problem for which it is designed, so apparently, it will not hurt anyone in the nearest time. But already now it can provide meaningful practical results on those narrow tasks, like natural language processing, image recognition, controlling self-driving cars, and helping develop new drugs more efficiently. With the ability to find hidden and unintuitive patterns in vast amounts of data in ways that no human can do, AI represents a considerable promise to transform many industries, including pharma and biotech.