THE bacteria are winning.
Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two million people are infected with bacteria that can’t be wiped out with antibiotics, and as a result, 23,000 people die. Direct health care costs from these illnesses are estimated to be as high as $20 billion annually.
Just last week, the U.C.L.A. Health System announced that nearly 180 patients may have been exposed to the CRE superbug that was linked to two deaths in one of its hospitals. Today, 30 percent of severe strep pneumonia infections are resistant to multiple drugs and 30 percent of gonorrhea infections are resistant to all antibiotics. And drug-resistant enterobacteriaceae, enterococcus, acinetobacter and a slew of other unpronounceable bacteria pose serious threats.
The development of antibiotics has been glacial. We need a completely new approach.
The number of F.D.A.-approved antibiotics has decreased steadily in the past two decades. The big pharmaceutical companies have largely stopped work on these drugs. Pfizer, long the leader in developing antibiotics, closed its antibiotic research operations in 2011. Smaller biotech companies now account for 80 percent of antibiotic development. There are now about 40 new antibiotics in development. That might sound promising — but not when compared with the 771 new drugs and vaccines in clinical trials or awaiting F.D.A. review for cancer. And most of these antibiotics are unlikely to come out of the testing process as F.D.A.-approved drugs.