Antibiotics are not the profit drivers for big pharmaceutical companies like Novartis. The maker of an experimental tuberculosis drug has handed over licensing to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development. It is just the latest in retreats from antibiotic therapies by big pharma.

We may be steamrolling towards a world where antibiotics no longer work, but public companies work on a short-sighted goal. Pleasing Wall Street. They need money-makers, and the antibiotic sector is not it. Novartis will instead shift its research focus to its core – cancer drugs, dermatology and heart failure. All areas that can quickly send a company into the black.

The agreement will have the TB Alliance fund further research and development. The fund will also have the sole responsibility of seeking approval and commercializing the TB treatments from the Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease.

The company released a brief statement on the move. “The goal of this agreement is to enable the program to be successful and bring needed medicines to patients.” They could continue to bring their substantial war chest to bear on the disease, but instead are leaving it to a non-profit.

Treating TB has actually led to the rise of antibiotic resistance. It normally involves a cocktail of differing antibiotics for six months. That kind of timeframe presents an issue for medical workers. A lot of people never finish the treatment protocol, leading to the rise of resistant strains.

Scientists are begging for big drug companies to start developing new antibiotics before it is too late. Several government initiatives have been started, but are still years away from bringing new drugs to the market. One way the general public can help is quit pestering your primary care doctor every time you have a cold.

Around 8.6 million people contract TB each year, with 1.3 million dying from the disease. The Global Alliance for TB Drugs will push to get the discoveries made by Novartis to the market in a safe and effective manner. It will give doctors a new treatment option, and hopefully prevent the spread of resistant strains of TB.


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