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The Development of New Antibiotics Is Slowing

For many years, pharmaceutical companies developed new antibiotics to replace old ones whose effectiveness was seriously reduced by resistance. The new drugs were often more potent versions of earlier compounds. Unfortunately, finding completely new antibiotic classes becomes progressively more difficult as we exhaust the available drug targets in pathogens. Early in the Twenty-First Century, pharmaceutical companies placed considerable hope on genomic technology as a way to find new bacterial drug targets and thereby new antibiotics. In this approach, computer-based analyses examine the information in bacterial DNA and gene expression profiles to identify potential targets for new antibiotics. So far, that approach has not panned out. At the same time, pharmaceutical executives realized that more money could be made from quality-of-life drugs and drugs for managing chronic diseases. For example, heart disease requires life-long therapy to lower cholesterol. In contrast, antibiotics are administered for only short times. Antibiotics also have a large development cost, almost $1 billion per drug. As a result, many major pharmaceutical companies shut down their microbiology divisions. Small biotech companies are taking on the effort, but we can no longer depend on new compounds to postpone the antibiotic resistance problem.

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