Big Pharma pushes to get farm animals off antibiotics and on vaccines

Eli Lilly ($LLY) recently opened a 48,000-square-foot research facility near Indianapolis that’s operated by its animal health division, Elanco, and that has one overriding goal: to develop vaccines that food producers can use in place of the antibiotics that they’re under increasing pressure to eliminate. In January, mandatory rules instituted by the FDA will prohibit companies from selling antibiotics for non-medical uses like promoting growth, and they will require farmers who want to use antibiotics in their animals to get the drugs from veterinarians.

Elanco predicts the new rules will shift the food industry’s mindset from treating diseases to preventing it--and the company wants to be on the forefront of that transition, offering a range of new vaccines for farm animals, according to Bloomberg.

“We see a world where there is less need for shared-use antibiotics,” Elanco President Jeff Simmons told Bloomberg. “There are going to be more alternatives than ever before.”

The new antibiotics rules were developed in response to growing global concerns about the rise of drug-resistant infections in people. In conjunction with the changes, the FDA and other regulatory agencies are stepping up their surveillance of antibiotics use on farms. That could cause the market for vaccines to explode, experts say.

A 2015 study cited by Bloomberg predicts the worldwide market for animal vaccines will jump from $5.5 billion in 2010 to $7.2 billion in 2020. Elanco is among the biggest players in the market, and it has recently introduced several new products, both vaccines and drugs, that are meant to replace antibiotics. The company is awaiting European approval for Clynav, a vaccine that protects north Atlantic salmon from pancreatic disease, for example. And in March, Elanco debuted Imrestor (pegbovigrastim injection), a drug that treats mastitis, a common infection in dairy cows.

The initiatives are part of an 8-step plan that Simmons laid out last summer at the White House, where Elanco participated in a panel discussion on antibiotics resistance. But Lilly is far from the only animal health leader that’s boosting its efforts to develop antibiotics alternatives. Merck ($MRK) has been investing heavily in vaccine development, and last year it bought Harrisvaccines, one of the companies that was enlisted by the USDA to help build a stockpile of avian flu vaccines. And at Zoetis ($ZTS), vaccines accounted for nearly half of new product approvals last year.

- here’s the Bloomberg article

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