No antibiotic candidates emerge to stem superbugs

Kyodo News

Japan’s pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have even a single candidate for new antibiotics to counter multidrug-resistant superbugs such as some types of Acinetobacter and E. coli bacteria, according to an expert reporting the situation to the government.

Shuhei Fujimoto, a professor at Tokai University’s Department of Bacteriology and Bacterial Infection, said he alerted the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s study group on superbugs to the lack of new antibiotics indispensable to treat people infected with such bacteria.

“Although the battle with multidrug-resistant bacteria has long been buttressed by developments of new antibiotics, we are in a critical situation at present,” he said.

Low profitability of antibiotics appears to be a factor behind pharmaceutical manufacturers’ reluctance to make developmental efforts for new antibiotics, he said.

A total of 58 people have been infected with multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter in Teikyo University Hospital since last year, including some who have died. E. coli with the gene to produce the NDM-1 enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to most antibiotics was reported for the first time in Japan last week.

Fujimoto said he has told the ministry’s study group that low profitability stems from the fact that a bacterium capable of resisting a new antibiotic is detected and reported in only four years on average after the antibiotic debuts, although new antibiotics development requires huge costs.

The medical community overseas faces a similar situation under which the number of newly developed antibiotics in the 2000s has plunged to less than one-fourth the corresponding number in the 1980s, he said.

In Japan, there were some years during the 1980s when the annual number of newly released antibiotics exceeded five. But no antibiotic promising enough to lead a drugmaker to release it on the market has been found since 2000.