Antibiotics funding splurge gets mixed reception

From Nature:

Eye of Science/Science Photo Library

Researchers are struggling to overcome antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae (pictured).

Antibiotics researchers are set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from a new funding stream — but not everyone thinks the cash is being directed to the right place.

The money is to come from CARB-X, a public–private partnership announced on 28 July. It is backed mainly by the US government, the London-based biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust and the UK R&D Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR Centre)s in Alderley Park, a consortium that includes public universities and private firms.

Over the next 5 years, the partnership hopes to mobilize at least US$350 million to look for ways to overcome bacteria that are resistant to many common antibiotics. However, it’s unclear whether all the promised money will be raised: the US contribution is anticipated to be $250 million over the 5 years, but that will depend on annual congressional approval.

Biotechnology firms welcome the initiative, which aims to accelerate the development of more than 20 antibacterial drugs, vaccines and diagnostics — for example, by tweaking the chemistry of promising molecules to make them more effective or safer.

But some academic researchers worry that CARB-X — which stands for the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator — fails to appreciate that one of the main barriers to finding new antibiotics is a lack of promising molecules in the first place.

“I have mixed feelings about this,” says Kim Lewis, an antibiotics researcher at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. “If more money is going into the general area of antibiotics, that’s a good thing. But I’m really surprised that we are getting another influx of funds into development rather than into discovery.”

The main problem, says Lewis, is the lack of compounds that can punch through the outer …

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