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Some Details about the Lack of New Antibiotic Development

Posted Sep 05 2012 12:00am

I had a recent conversation with Dr. Richard Proctor who is is an infectious disease specialist. Our conversation focused on the the relative lack of new antibiotics in the market and how to reverse this trend. Below is a guest blog by Dr. Proctor.  --BAF

When one asks the question about what is needed to promote the development of new antibiotics, the short answer is money.  However, this is only part of the answer.  It's money that is needed but not necessarily money from the government.  The problem is that the government (99% the FDA) needs to make it possible for companies to make money.  While the Federal Government could supply the $100 billion that is needed for antibiotic development, they would need to give it to the pharmaceutical companies because developing these products at Universities would cost at least ten times more.  Each successful antibiotic costs about $5 billion to develop. The problem is that the FDA has been incompetent and has obstructed antibiotic development.  This conclusion is not coming from the pharmaceutical industry; rather it comes from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)  but in less blunt terms.

Because of the lack of antibiotics, the IDSA set up a Bad Bugs, No Drugs Committee .  When the IDSA began their campaign to publicize the problem and lobby Congress and the President, the "folks on the Hill" decided to investigate the IDSA Bad Bugs, No Drugs Committee members, assuming that they must be the paid shills for the pharmaceutical industry. This is precisely how they themselves behave.  Of course, much to the dismay of the Congressional committee tasked with this charge, they could find no evidence that the folks on the Bad Bugs, No Drugs committee were getting paid off.  Indeed, they came to the dramatic conclusion that the committee members were actually worried about human health. They dropped the investigation rather than admit that they were on a witch hunt.

Despite these events, the Congress had not moved on this issue.  Therefore, two years ago, I and Ace Allgood, a movie documentary producer, began to make a TV documentary about this antibiotic crisis.  The rationale behind this project was that "the only reality is TV reality."  Never mind that there are huge numbers of people dying from antibiotic resistant bacteria  (e.g., methicillin resistant S. aureus). MRSA kills more people each year in the US than all homicides, Parkinson's disease, HIV/AIDS, and emphysema put together [IDSA Policy Paper, CID 52 (Suppl 5): S397, 2011]. And yet there is extremely limited awareness or press coverage of this problem.  Why isn't there an Amber Alert for each kid who dies of community acquired MRSA (3 per day)? Here is the link to the trailer for our documentary: Rising Plague .

Comments and thoughts about this topic are welcome. This summer, the Congress did acknowledge the crisis by passing bills containing some of the elements suggested in the IDSA white paper referenced above, but there is still a huge amount more to accomplish before companies will put in the money needed to push antibiotic research and development forward.

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