Humankind is in an arms race with drug-resistant superbugs—and bacteria have the upper hand.
Although drug makers developed 13 new classes of antibiotics between 1935 and 1968, only two new classes of these medications have emerged in the more than four decades since then.1 This leaves doctors with fewer options to fight a rising tide of drug-resistant infections.
If this trend continues, warns Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we could enter “a post-antibiotic era.”2
Whereas scientific, economic, and regulatory forces have worked in relative harmony to produce many safe and effective medical treatments, they conspire to slow the development of new antibiotics.
Antibiotics are difficult to discover.4
Antibiotics tend to produce lower revenues than many other types of drugs.5
Compared with other drug types, it is more difficult to test antibiotics and secure approval for them from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.7
1. J. H. Powers, “Antimicrobial Drug Development—the Past, the Present, and the Future,” Clin Microbiol Infect 10 Suppl 4 (2004): 23–31.
2 T. Frieden, “Antibiotic Resistance and the Threat to Public Health,” testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, released April 28, 2010.
3 Based on data from: J.H. Powers, “Antimicrobial Drug Development—the Past, the Present, and the Future,” Clin Microbiol Infect 10 Suppl 4 (2004); 23–31.
4 “Innovative Mechanisms for Tackling Antibacterial Resistance,” The Royal Society, last modified July 26, 2008, royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/publications/2008/7932.pdf.
5 E. Power, “Impact of Antibiotic Restrictions: The Pharmaceutical Perspective.” Clin Microbiol Infect 12 Suppl 5 (2006): 25–34.
6 T. Parker-Pope, “Free Antibiotics May Contribute to Drug Resistance, Officials Say,” New York Times, March 4, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/health/policy/05drugs.html
7 D. M. Shlaes, Antibiotics: The Perfect Storm. New York: Springer Science+Business Media, 2010.