Are there really no new antibiotics?

By Guy Tsafnat - August 24, 2015, 4 PM


Global health organisations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) often broadcast  that antibiotics are losing efficacy because bacteria grow resistant to them and there are no new antibiotics. However, this list shows that new antibiotics are steadily being released even today. So are there really no new antibiotics?

Yes, there are really no new antibiotics. The list is actually of antibiotic drug products which are not new antibiotics. As no antibiotics are patented any more, pharmaceutical can reproduce “generic” versions of the same drug. Bacteria don’t distinguish among them and as resistance to one increases, so does resistance to others. New products are often either a new name to the same old drug, new dosage, or a new cocktail of antibiotics (which actually accelerate antibiotic resistance). This list shows the list new drugs were introduced to the market. With the exception of one drug (that targets only Tuberculosis), the last antibiotic drug was released in 1986 and the last drug that targets Gram Negative bacteria (responsible for more serious infections and more superbug species that other bacteria) was release in 1968.

The reason there are no new antibiotics is usually described as a market failure. New antibiotics are in the common good but their development is expensive (at least US $1.5 Billion) and the expected returns would be small because any new antibiotic will be conserved (i.e. prescribed infrequently). This is a market failure because market forces, which drive pharmaceutical research, are failing the public.

The CDC and WHO are absolutely right to raise the alarm on antibiotic resistance. We have to make good use of antibiotics, prescribe antibiotics only when they are needed and only when they are effective (precision medicine). Evidence is, that if we do that right, we can not only slow the growth of antibiotic resistance, but reduce it as well.

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