Fixing the antibiotics pipeline
Did you know that almost all of the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor were discovered in the 1950s and 60s? Most of these antibiotics are made by soil bacteria which have to carry resistance to their own antibiotics to prevent them killing themselves. Inevitably these resistance genes have spread to less friendly bacteria due to the mis-use of antibiotics and as a result we are now dealing with the terrifying reality of multi-drug resistant infectious bacteria combined with a depleting arsenal of effective antibiotics.
In fact there are plenty of new antibiotics out there but it’s not cost-effective for biotech companies to go out there and find them. As a result we’re approaching the situation we were in only 100 years ago, just before the discovery of wonder drugs like penicillin and streptomycin.
An excellent and timely comment in Nature summarises these problems and correctly states that antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis. They also suggest a solution which might persuade big Pharma to renew their antibiotic discovery programmes. They suggest that governments pay for phase III clinical trials, extend the patents on antimicrobials by an extra five years and guarantee that they will stockpile any new antibiotics. This could make antibiotic discovery fashionable again because although these drugs are priceless when it comes to saving lives, they are currently too expensive to bring to market.
Posted by Matt Hutchings