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The War on Bacteria
A New Cure for Superbug MRSA

Here’s some good news from the front lines of our war with bacteria: Scientists have found a far more promising cure for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA is a “superbug” often acquired in hospitals and has, until now, required a complex treatment. Whereas the old treatment took ten days and often required a hospital visit, the new antibiotic, called Orbactiv, is something better: It can be taken as a single dose, remains in one’s system for a long time, and does not require patients to return to hospitals and risk infecting others.

The WHO has already warned that newly formidable bacteria are a global threat, citing the prevalence of drug-resistant strains of e. coli and gonorrhea, among others.

However, developing new drugs is becoming more difficult and more expensive all the time. Megan McArdle writes about the difficulty of finding new drugs here. She quotes a researcher in the field, who says frankly:

If there ever was a field of drug discovery where the low-hanging fruit has been picked clean, it is antibiotic research. You have to use binoculars to convince yourself that there’s any more fruit up there at all.

That’s hardly encouraging. At least, as this recent discovery shows, sometimes we beat the odds.

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  • Thirdsyphon

    From a business perspective, part of the problem with antibiotics is that they’re designed to be used to cure (not manage) conditions, and to do so over a very short period of time. That limits the revenue stream that can be derived from them, and as the cost of discovering new antibiotics ramps up, it makes it commercially unprofitable for pharmaceutical companies to work on them. If in the future we should find ourselves living in a world where people are regularly dying from infectious diseases that new antibiotics could cure, the financial equation will tip. . . but it’s a dumb-as-dirt civilization that just sits on its thumbs and waits for that horrible day to arrive. This could be a case for government intervention to correct a market failure. . . and Megan McCardle’s skepticism notwithstanding, we ought to remember that Kennedy’s lofty idealism actually did get America to the moon.

    • Bruce

      This isn’t a market failure. It’s a government failure. The cost of getting a new drug through the regulatory pipeline now exceeds $1 billion. Regulation is a huge part of the cost of bringing new drugs to market and the regulators have overreached, causing companies to be overly conservative.

  • Andrew Allison

    The problem with antibiotics is evolution. As clearly demonstrated by the history of this fight, bacteria mutate (evolve) rapidly and, as a result, whenever a new threat (antibiotic) is introduced, some mutants prove immune. The latest “cure” is simply a palliative.

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