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No More Antibiotics? Action Campaign Urges New Drug Development

Antibiotic resistance is a major global threat

Imagine a world without antibiotics. Centuries ago, there were no synthetic antibiotics, and that day may come again soon unless there is an investment in developing new antimicrobials, given that a growing number of people are becoming resistant to the currently available options.

Antibiotic resistance is a leading health threat

Although natural antibiotics have been recognized for millennia—for example, the ancient Greeks used molds and plants to treat infections and Babylonian doctors used sour milk—the discovery of penicillin in 1928 started the ball rolling for the eventual development of synthetic antibiotics.

People worldwide have come to depend on synthetic antibiotics to help prevent and fight the wide array of infections that plague humankind and animals as well. Although initially highly effective, these drugs have taken a turn against their inventors.

Two years ago, the World Health Organization announced that antibiotic resistance was among the top three health threats in the world. Not only is antibiotic resistance a serious problem, but complacency concerning the urgency of the situation is fueling the threat.

A researcher from University of Birmingham, England, has issued a report and a warning regarding antibiotics. Author Professor Laura Piddock explained that “Antibiotics are not perceived as essential to health or the practice of medicine, despite such agents saving lives so that individuals can live for many years after infection.”

Yet the pharmaceutical industry has lost much of its interest in developing antibiotics, according to the new report, as they provide small profit margins—unlike drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, they don’t require long-term or lifetime use. Once a new antibiotic is brought to market, after facing numerous regulatory hurdles, it then typically has a short life because the targeted bacteria develop resistance to it.

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To help prevent the demise of antibiotics, several efforts are underway. The European Union initiated the Commission’s 5-Year Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance on November 17, 2011, and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC) has launched the Antibiotic Action campaign.

Antibiotic Action is a global initiative and forum that urges governments, health professionals, charities, and industry “to identify and implement solutions within the research, regulation and economic markets to stimulate and regenerate interest in the discovery and development of antibiotic agents of the future.”

Those behind Antibiotic Action stress that failure to have effective antibiotics available will seriously jeopardize individuals everywhere and that it has “serious concerns regarding the future effectiveness of currently available antibiotics and the lack of antibiotic agents in the drug pipeline.”

One action that may help involves how antibiotic drug trials are conducted. Piddock noted that current drug trials for antibiotics tend to recruit individuals with infections that are not necessarily caused by the bacteria the drug was designed to kill. Eliminating people who don’t have the causative bacterium from trials could make the study results more relevant.

Will we soon see a day when there are no more antibiotics? Piddock warned that “until a global alliance for antibiotic drug discovery and development is formed, pharmaceutical companies need to recognize that many expensive medicines in their portfolio and in development might be useless if patients succumb to fatal infections.” Antibiotic Action has a petition and is even using Twitter to get its message out.

Antibiotic Action
Piddock LJV. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2011 Nov 18: doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(11)70316-4

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons