Pew Releases Scientific Roadmap to Spur Antibiotic Discovery and Innovation

Report proposes approach to end decades-long gap in new antibiotic approval

Pew Releases Scientific Roadmap to Spur Antibiotic Discovery and Innovation

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today released a strategy to end the 30-year drought in the discovery of new types of antibiotics, key to fighting some of the most serious microbial threats. The Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery identifies priority research goals and specific steps to break through the most significant scientific barriers impeding antibiotic discovery and to pave the way for urgently needed new drugs. 

“Drug-resistant bacteria are an ever-increasing threat, but the discovery of new antibiotics has slowed to a crawl,” said Allan Coukell, senior director for health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Every antibiotic in use today is based on a discovery made more than 30 years ago.”

At the same time, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens has accelerated, giving rise to life-threatening infections that will not respond to any available antibiotic treatment. Inevitably, the more that antibiotics are used, the more bacteria develop resistance—rendering the drugs less effective and leading public health authorities worldwide to flag antibiotic resistance as an urgent and growing public health threat.

“There’s an urgent need for a new kind of research and development effort—different from what currently exists in both the pharmaceutical industry and academia—to tackle the foundational scientific questions outlined in this roadmap,” Coukell added. 

Starting in 2014, Pew convened a scientific working group, including some of the world’s leading scientists in antibiotic research, to set priorities for a program of scientific research that would underpin efforts to discover new drugs. The group included experts drawn from industry, academia, government, and the nonprofit sector to analyze scientific roadblocks and propose solutions.

“If we want to revitalize the pipeline of lifesaving antibiotics, we must start by addressing the root of the problem: the fundamental gaps in basic research that hamper antibiotic discovery,” said Coukell. “While it’s critical to address the complex economic and regulatory barriers to bringing new antibiotics to market, we also must tackle the scientific hurdles to finding new molecules and other scientific tools that will enable the development of new medicines.”

Under Pew’s roadmap proposal, a full-time core scientific leadership group would set priorities and direct milestone-driven research to find and tailor new chemical matter for antibiotic discovery. Dedicated interdisciplinary scientific teams would develop guidelines, methodologies, and other tools to provide scientists around the world with the resources they need to find promising new antibacterial drugs and therapies. The findings would rapidly be made accessible to researchers across industry, academia, nonprofits, and governments.

“As well as being a commercially troubled field, antibiotic research and development also faces some very significant scientific and technical challenges,” said Lord Jim O’Neill, chairman of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. “If we are to properly reinvigorate antibiotic discovery then we need to tackle these technical and commercial challenges in parallel, in a coordinated and focussed way. This new roadmap is therefore key to filling important gaps in our scientific understanding about how to beat drug-resistant bacteria, and to supporting antibiotic discovery and development now and in the future.”

Pew’s work seeks to build a sustainable and robust foundation for antibiotic discovery. The report’s key findings show a need for:

  • A targeted approach to tackle the basic scientific barriers impeding antibiotic discovery and development.
  • A better understanding of how to overcome the multiple defenses of drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria, which cause some of the most difficult-to-treat infections.
  • Synthesis of new molecules designed to overcome bacterial defenses.
  • Tools and methodologies to evaluate promising alternatives to traditional antibiotic use.
  • A framework for sharing information, expertise, and materials across the antibiotic research community to foster innovative science and spur the discovery of novel antibacterial therapies.

The principles outlined in Pew’s roadmap align with a growing chorus of national and international calls for reviving the antibiotic pipeline. The World Health Organization, the United Kingdom’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, and the research community all have highlighted the pressing need for new antibiotics. The plans laid out in Pew’s roadmap translate these calls for action into a series of concrete next steps that should be taken to transform and sustain antibiotic innovation over the coming decades.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at

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