It is worth remembering the coronavirus and its related covid-19 disease is bad but far from a worse-case scenario.

The attention on societal and economic resilience in the face of the disease that has crossed 10 million infections so far this year could be substantially worse if a mutation increases its morbidity still further let alone mortality.

Yet with all the extra attention and funding towards viral research, so-called superbugs, or drugs-resistant bacteria, remain an increasing threat.

Pew Trusts has focused for years on how superbugs could be the next leading global cause of death, eventually claiming more lives than all cancers combined and effectively returning people to a pre-antibiotics era when infections were a cause of about a third of deaths.

This week is expected to see more action as drug makers Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Merck KGaA and the US-based Merck are reportedly teaming up to create a $1bn for-profit multi-corporate venturing fund to bet on antibiotics, according to Ed Silverman at STAT, also picked up by Endpoints News. The World Health Organization, the European Investment Bank and charities are also involved in what is being billed as a new solution to the “antibiotic innovation challenge,” a source confirmed to Global Corporate Venturing.

The move would complement the CARB-X initiative run out of Boston University and backed by governments and charities to invest up to $500m from 2016 to 2021 to accelerate the development of innovative antibiotics and other therapeutics, vaccines, and rapid diagnostics to address drug-resistant bacteria.

But the challenge remains to support commercial success for antibiotics. Last month, Nasdaq-listed La Jolla Pharmaceutical Company agreed to acquire Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals for $43m in cash and $16m in performance fees. La Jolla sells Giapreza for septic blood poisoning, while Tetraphase, which had floated six years ago after corporate backing by Fidelity, has launched Xerava for patients suffering from serious infections.

Isaac Stoner, co-founder of Octagon, a drug discovery company, wrote of its pivot “putting our promising antibiotic program on the shelf and focusing all efforts on a related approach to treating autoimmunity.

“The choice was not profit-maximizing; it was existential.”

Innovation matters.

James Mawson

James Mawson is founder and chief executive of Global Venturing.