David Templeton explains why it is so difficult to get new antibiotics from the laboratory and research clinics to the marketplace:
Up until now there has not been a cost incentive for companies to do this. Here’s the problem: A single prescription for antibiotics usually is sufficient to kill infection, which limits the revenues a company receives to offset the cost of drug research, development and clinical trials to test for safety and effectiveness. Compare that with blood pressure or cholesterol drugs, which people often take for decades, providing the company with long-term profits to offset the high R&D costs.
“We do the original spade work for development of antibiotics, including pre-clinical trials, animal studies and early clinical trials,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]. “When a company is fairly certain of a profit margin that is substantial, it can assume responsibility for the clinical trials to develop a blockbuster drug.”
The PediaBlog has explored the ever-growing trend of antimicrobial (antibiotic) resistance whereby bacteria, after exposure to antibiotics, undergo genetic changes that render them immune from the killing effects of those same antibiotics. It really is (another) existential crisis humans face:
“Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections,” the CDC states on its website, www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/. “Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.”
Templeton gets the money quote on why the race is on to develop and make available new antibiotics:
“Antibiotics are a very serious public health problem for us and it’s getting worse,” Dr. Fauci said. “Resistant microbes outstrip new antibiotics. It’s an ongoing problem. It’s not like we can fix it, and it’s over. We have to fight continued resistance with a continual pipeline of new antibiotics and continue with the perpetual challenge.”
In addition to judiciously using antibiotics only when necessary (for bacterial and not viral infections), shortening the number of days used to treat infections, and changing the agricultural practice of routinely feeding livestock antibiotics, there are other ways we can all work to slow down this emerging nightmare. Tomorrow, we’ll look at one other strategy: getting ourselves back to using Penicillin.