Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, warns the World Health Organization, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill. The misuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of superbugs that have developed a resistance to the once-lethal drugs. Meanwhile, no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.
It would be easy to blame big pharma for this perfect storm, but the reality is a bit more complex. Pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to engage in antibiotics R&D because the return on investment can be elusive.
If a novel antibiotic were to be approved for a life-threatening infection such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), writes John LaMattina on Forbes.com, federal agencies would try to prevent its overuse so that we don't find ourselves in this vicious circle once again, or at least delay it from happening for as long as possible. "This business model has caused most major pharmaceutical companies to drop their antibiotic R&D efforts," continues LaMattina. "Quite frankly, the financial returns for such R&D don't measure up to the returns that companies can realize in other disease areas such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer." In his article, he suggests a number of ways in which antibiotics research could be incentivized. Our friends across the pond, meanwhile, have some initiatives of their own.