The antibiotics market is at risk of losing another decade to inadequate levels of research and innovation in favour of rare disease drugs, according to a new study.

A report from intellectual property firm Marks & Clarke looked at patent trends over the last decade and found that less than 5% of antibiotic patents filed since 2004 were for new classes of drugs in this area.

Instead, there are far more patents being filed in rare diseases, with big pharma firms such as Pfizer, Merck, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson among the top researchers for these kinds of medicines.

The biggest numbers of antibiotic patents came from Chinese firms Tianjin Shengji and Shandong Xuanzhu Pharmaceutical Technology, with Amgen found to be the leading filer for new antibiotic classes.

“This shows that [antibiotics] has not been a priority area for big pharma over the last decade,” says Gareth Williams, European patent attorney and partner at Marks & Clerk.

Lagging behind

“In terms of patent filings, antibiotics research as a whole is clearly lagging behind research areas like rare diseases, where a huge number of patents are consistently being filed each year.”

Williams puts this down to government incentives that encourage orphan drug research.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat, with a UK government report estimating that it could kill an extra 10 million people a year by 2050 if new treatments are not developed soon.