The antibiotics industry is broken—but there’s a fix

The antibiotics industry is broken—but there’s a fix

Enlarge / Here, have some antibiotics. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Last week, the biotech company Achaogen announced that it was filing for bankruptcy. That might not seem like much news: businesses crash and burn all the time. But Achaogen, founded in 2002, was an antibiotics company. Its first drug, Zemdri (plazomicin), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last June.

The world is running out of useful antibiotics because the rise of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is undermining them, and big firms are disinclined to make more. In 2018 alone, three large legacy pharma firms closed their antibiotic research programs. So the collapse of even a small business that stepped up to make a new antibiotic is a blow.

Achaogen hit all the marks that should have signaled success. It recruited experienced developers, targeted an infection that the World Health Organization considers a critical unmet need, stuck with

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