The collapse of the antibiotic market has dramatically reduced the number of promising drugs. Between 1980 and 2009, the Food and Drug Administration approved 61 new antibiotics for systemic use; over the past decade that number has shrunk to 15, and a third of the companies behind those medicines have since gone belly up. Those backing the fund acknowledge that the effort is largely a stopgap measure. Industry executives and public health experts say that fixing the broken marketplace for antibiotics would require sweeping government intervention to create financial incentives for drug companies, including policy changes that would increase reimbursements for lifesaving drugs kept under lock and key and used only when existing therapies fail. Legislation that would address the problem has not gained traction in recent years.
Drug-resistant infections kill 700,000 people a year across the globe, according to the United Nations, which has warned that the death toll could rise to 10 million by 2050 without concerted action.
Dr. Peter Beyer, a senior adviser at the W.H.O. who led the effort to create the new fund, said the threat of antimicrobial resistance rivaled that of the coronavirus pandemic, but it was a slow-rolling crisis that could feel abstract to political leaders focused on the next election cycle.
“Hopefully this fund can bridge the gap until politicians realize the urgency of antimicrobial resistance,” he said.
Everly Macario, a public health expert at the University of Chicago Medicine who focuses on antimicrobial resistance, understands how abstract the threat can feel. In 2004, her 18-month- old son, Simon, died from a drug-resistant staph infection within 24 hours of arriving at a hospital emergency room with breathing difficulties.
“People think drug-resistant infections are something that affects other people,” she said. “But one day, all of us, both young and old, will need an antibiotic. A world in which antibiotics no longer work is something that should terrify everyone.”