But these wonder drugs have become less effective over time, and tens of thousands of Americans now die every year when physicians run out of ways to ward off deadly infections.
Pharmaceutical companies are now responding, and at least three-dozen new antibiotics are now under development nationwide, experts said. A team of researchers in New Jersey is one of the leaders in this effort, and its work on a novel approach could be ready for patients by 2020.
Based on technology created by Rutgers scientists and developed with help from TAXIS Pharmaceuticals, a drug maker in Monmouth Junction, TXA709 is specifically designed to treat MRSA, an extremely deadly bacterial infection that doesn’t respond to existing antibiotics.
The Federal Drug Administration has now given the team approval to test the drug on animals, and they hope to follow with human trials in the spring.
TXA709 was developed by Daniel Pilch, an associate professor in the pharmacology department at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and Edmond LaVoie, a professor and chair of the medicinal chemistry department at Rutgers’ pharmacy school, explained Yair Harel, the executive director for New Ventures at Rutgers.
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, kills some 19,000 Americans and adds $3 billion to the country’s annual healthcare costs, according to the Rutgers research team’s announcement last spring.
Advocates gathered this past weekend in Chicago to mark World MRSA Day on Sunday, October 2 — an event first designated in 2009.
Their efforts may be having an effect. Infection rates have been declining in recent years nationwide, including in New Jersey.
But reports of MRSA at Garden State hospitals were roughly five percent higher than the national average, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While it is not limited to healthcare facilities, most infections show up in hospitals, rehab, or nursing homes among patients who have compromised immune systems.
The underlying problem for MRSA, and other diseases resistant to antibiotics, is that as these life-saving drugs became more common, the ever-evolving bacteria grew in new ways that enabled them to resist the force of whatever medicine was once a cure.
And as pharmaceutical companies migrated away from developing new antibiotics, focusing instead on better-paying sectors like cancer drugs, resistant infections flourished in recent decades.
A growing awareness of the problem among healthcare providers, researchers, and public leaders has started to reverse this trend.
Those in the pharmaceutical industry also credit the 2011 federal GAIN Act, or Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now, which offered patent advantages and other benefits to companies that ventured back into antibiotics.
TXA709 is one of those products to benefit from this law, but the Monmouth Junction company is not alone.
Debbie Hart, president and CEO of BioNJ, an advocacy group for the state’s biotech industry, said there are a number of Garden State companies working on new antibiotics and some 37 products in the pipeline nationwide. Economic incentives and other policy changes have helped spark this revival.
“There is a perfect storm right now given the combination of the need, the advances in the science, such as that underway at TAXIS, and the increase in incentives and potential incentives,” Hart said, “that is resulting in increased research in this important area.”