The R-word: What happens when the clock winds down on new drug development?

Why are some top-notch scientists – “bioprospectors” – leaving the lab and scouring such places as the ocean floor, the Amazon rainforest and the caves of Western Canada? “I would like to look at bacteria that live in a very rare and extreme habitat and would like to see whether these types of bacteria could be our new drugs,” says the scientist in the video below.

She explains: “We now have a crisis, an antibiotic resistance crisis [on] our hands. Bacteria basically became resistant or became harder to kill.… If you don’t have new drugs people can just have these unnecessary death[s] from infection that used to be treatable before.”

Her remarks are timely. Last week the World Health Organization issued a report saying there are not enough new antibiotics in the pipeline and that most of the drugs currently in the clinical pipeline are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and thus are only short-term solutions.

But there’s another problem. It takes decades of research and up to a billion dollars to create just one new antibiotic. Bioprospecting in such places as the caves of British Columbia is just the beginning of that process.

So what happens if we don’t beat the clock? We ration antibiotics – which has already begun in the UK – and that ain’t gonna be pretty.


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