Where are the new antibiotics?

In our previous post which you can (and should) read here we talked about the history of antibiotics, included in that post was a table detailing the introduction of new antibiotics, you may have noticed not that many being introduced in the last decade. Now that table of course was simplified to the major antibiotics over a long period, the graph below however gives a much more in-depth look at antibiotic development over the last 30 years, and again it doesn’t look good for modern day antibiotic development. With older antibiotics more likely to face resistance (simply by bacteria having been exposed to them for a longer period) it is imperative that new antibiotics are developed.

The IDSA (Infectious Diseases Society of America) has begun a campaign entitled 10×20 which you can have a look at here  essentially the campaign is petitioning for the development of 10 new antibiotics by the year 2020. As much as this campaign is fighting, positive results are unlikely. We are halfway through the 2010’s and only one antibiotic has been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), pharmaceutical companies simply are not interested in creating new antibiotics due to low returns on investment. Pfizer the pharmaceutical company responsible for manufacturing the majority of penicillin during World War 2, once a tentpole of antibiotic development, now only manufactures four antibiotics by order of the World Health Organisation, in 2011 Pfizer closed its antibiotic research facilities. There is simply a lack of financial impetus for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics when 80% of antibiotics fail safety and efficacy testing, and each new drug costs on average $5 billion to research and develop.

The USA attempted to lure pharmaceutical companies back to antibiotic research and development by signing into law the GAIN (Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now) act, which created the Antibacterial Drug Development Task Force, extended drug exclusivity patents for developers and allowed FDA ‘fast-tracking’. The significant result of the GAIN act has been the emergence of small start-up companies, which have created renewed interest and activity in the research and development field. The fact is however that the amount of drugs being developed, and perhaps more importantly, approved, still remains far behind where it needs to be.

So maybe the answer isn’t antibiotics at all, the next few articles will examine alternative ways of combating bacterial infections so stay tuned for that.

Stay well.


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