The Search for Naturally Sourced Antibiotics

We often turn to antibiotics as a kind of silver bullet; a bacterium-eradicator with the power to relieve whatever ails us. A wide variety of conditions are routinely treated with antibiotics, from common infections to more serious illnesses like tuberculosis. However, in our zeal to wipe out bacteria we have given the invaders precisely what they need to mutate and adapt – resulting in ever-more resistant strains that have rendered many of our stand-by drugs quite powerless. Antibiotic over-use has made bacteria stronger, while our ability to formulate more effective alternatives continues to decline. This is why Sanofi, partnered with leading clinical research organization Fraunhofer-Gesellschafst, is going grassroots – looking to nature for antibacterial chemicals and compounds to fight off the new super-bug invasion.

A powerful partnership

There are several antibiotics, such as penicillin, that are derived from nature and have been invaluable in the treatment of infectious disease. Sanofi and Fraunhofer will continue to seek out similar remedies, hoping to ultimately extend the scope of their research to include indications such as diabetes, pain and rare diseases, where naturally derived substances have proven to play an important role in treatment and disease prevention. Sanofi will share its strain collection – one of the world’s largest, consisting of over a hundred thousand different micro-organisms – with Fraunhofer, and in addition is bringing its know-how in anti-infective research.

Slow-down in new drug discovery

Students of pharmaceutical courses and industry professionals have noted recent trends in pharma R&D that point to an interest in re-purposing old drugs, rather than formulating new ones. Prohibitive costs, and the extensive testing associated with required pharmaceutical quality assurance have prompted Big Pharma to back away from generating new therapies. As patents expire, pharma companies are focused on innovative applications of existing treatments, and how technology like DNA mapping is generating new inroads in the development of targeted, customized drugs. However, the World Health Organization considers resistant super-bugs a pressing issue of global concern that could return us to the pre-antibiotic era, and render many infections untreatable and uncontrollable.

Sanofi emerges at market frontrunner

Since the 1960s, Sanofi has discovered and developed several naturally sourced compounds, including rifampicin, for treating tuberculosis, and teicoplanin, used for severe infections in hospitals.  However, despite evidence of a soon-to-burst antibiotic bubble, Big Pharma seems uninterested in pursuing alternatives. Only 4 companies are currently involved in antibiotic development, down from 11 in previous years. In fact, since 1998 only four antibiotics have been approved by the FDA for use by doctors. The last approval came in 2010. Only seven antibiotics are currently in any kind of advanced stage of development and are years away from approval and use.