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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam

How did the Antibiotic Pipeline run Dry? People, Infrastructures and Politics of Antibiotic Drug Development 1970-2010

Alternative title: Hvorfor ble det ikke nye antibiotika? Folk, infrastruktur og politikk i antibiotikautviklingen 1970-2010

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

Project Number:

314490

Application Type:

Project Period:

2021 - 2025

Location:

Subject Fields:

Partner countries:

For decades after 1945, antibiotics were a powerful symbol of medical technology and progress. But why are there no new antibiotics anymore? Our project asks how the antibiotic drug pipeline ran dry and it starts from a few hypotheses: In the 1980s, disenchantment with costly screening programs, the customary way to find antibiotics, gained ground. In the 1990s, technology seemed to offer a way out. Synthesizing compounds became automated and so-called targeted drug development, using genomic tools, offered an alternative path to screening. At the same time, a sense of crisis grew and problems of antibiotic drug development and of antibiotic resistance became part of political debates. In the early 2000s, targeted drug development had not lived up to high hopes. Big pharmaceutical companies now abandoned the field, leaving it to venture capital-funded, small companies. This had proven successful for instance for cancer, but it did not work for antibiotics. The question on how to re-start antibiotic drug development is high on the agenda of current health politics. Our project will inform such debates from the perspective of historical research. In five work packages, which will result in five PhDs, we look at histories of: industrial laboratories, target definitions in drug development, culture collections, gender dynamics and how the empty pipeline figured in health policy debates. Our aim is to transform the notion of the empty pipeline from an often self-serving slogan to a historical concept, providing a complex picture of a process that evolved over a generation. We are a team of 10 from Denmark (Jørgen Leisner and Laura Martinenghi as PhD student), France (Frédéric Vagneron and Erin Lindsey Paterson as PhD student), Ireland (Claas Kirchhelle and Mirza Alas Portillo as PhD student), Spain (Maria Jesús Santesmases an Isabel Gómez as PhD student), led from Norway (Christoph Gradmann and Belma Skender as PhD student)

The empty antibiotics drug pipeline figures high in debates about the threat of antimicrobial resistance. It is referred to as one of the reasons for our difficulties in combatting antimicrobial resistance. How did this pipeline run dry, when did the pharmaceutical industry give up on developing anti-infective medicines? Our project asks these questions. Our hypothesis is that the antibiotic pipeline ran dry in three consecutive waves from 1970 and 2010: In the 1980s, disenchantment with screening programmes, the customary way to find antibiotics, gained ground. In the 1990s, technology seemed to offer a way out. Synthesising compounds became automated and targeted drug development, using genomic tools, offered an alternative path to screening. At the same time, the sense of crisis around antimicrobial resistance grew and problems of antibiotic drug development became part of political debates. In the early 2000s, targeted drug development had not lived up to high hopes. Big pharmaceutical companies abandoned the field, leaving it to venture capital-funded, small companies. This path had proven successful in other fields, but it did not work for anti-infective medicines. The question on how to re-start antibiotic drug development is high on the agenda of current global health politics. This project will inform such debates through historical research. In our research, we think of antibiotics as infrastructures - as facilitators in industry, science, medicine and society. They become more visible in the event of their failure as antimicrobial resistance or their absence if new antibiotics are lacking. Five WPs, looking at industrial laboratories, drug target definitions, culture collections, gender dynamics and how the empty pipeline figured in health policy debates. Our aim is to transform the notion of the empty pipeline from an often self-serving slogan to a historical concept, providing a complex picture of a process that evolved over a generation.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam