Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania has a proposal in the New York Times for a prize in antibiotic discovery:
Let’s use prize money. What if the United States government — maybe in cooperation with the European Union and Japan — offered a $2 billion prize to the first five companies or academic centers that develop and get regulatory approval for a new class of antibiotics? As the XPrize — a foundation that runs competitions to spur innovations for difficult problems that often aren’t being addressed — and others have demonstrated, prizes for lofty goals can catalyze the creation of hundreds of unexpected research teams with novel approaches to old challenges. The prestige, bragging rights and renewed sense of mission created by such a prize would alone make an investment in research worthwhile.
I think that’s a good idea, and I’d submit that this is about the minimum amount needed. (It’s certainly a lot more realistic than this proposal). Regulatory approval is certainly the appropriate endpoint. If someone wants to put more money into it, I’d tighten up the requirements a bit to say a new mechanism of action against gram-negative organisms, since hitting the gram-positive ones is (somewhat) easier and (somewhat) less critical. Knowing that payout is waiting would make a good case for a number of small companies to try a lot of unusual things, and unusual things are just what’s needed in this area. Let’s see if anyone expresses serious interest. . .