Antibiotics such as penicillin have helped to fight numerous diseases such as syphilis, and infections caused by staphylococci and streptococci. However, overuse of antibiotics is a problem. Physicians sometimes prescribe antibiotics to fight viral infections even though antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Because of this overuse, more and more strains of drug-resistant bacteria are appearing. The Economist estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cost Europe alone €1.5 billion per year in health care cost and lost productivity.
Creating new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant bacteria is one of the most important challenges facing mankind. Drug companies, however, are less enthusiastic about producing these types of drugs. Patients take drugs for chronic diseases for a lifetime; drugs for antibiotics are usually only taken for a few week. ”Between 1983 and 1992 American regulators approved 30 new antibiotics. Since 2003 they have approved just seven.” Funding drug research for antibiotics, however, could change these priorities.
In the fight against drug-resistant bacteria, Europe is leading the way. On May 8th the European Commission and Europe’s pharmaceutical association gave details of a plan to boost antibiotics research by up to €590m ($760m).
Will the U.S. match the European initiative with similar funding levels? Only time will tell.