An editorial in today's New York Times: The Rise of Antibiotic Resistance. Excerpt:
The most urgent need is to minimize the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, which accelerates the development of resistant strains. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has issued voluntary guidelines calling on drug companies, animal producers and veterinarians to stop indiscriminately using antibiotics that are important for treating humans on livestock; the drug companies have said they will comply.
But the agency, shortsightedly, has appealed a court order requiring it to ban the use of penicillin and two forms of tetracycline by animal producers to promote growth unless they provide proof that it will not promote drug-resistant microbes.
The pharmaceutical industry needs to be encouraged to develop new antibiotics to supplement those that are losing their effectiveness. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which represents pharmacists in Britain, called this month for stronger financial incentives. It said that no new class of antibiotics has been discovered since 1987, largely because the financial returns for finding new classes of antibiotics are too low. Unlike lucrative drugs to treat chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular ailments, antibiotics are typically taken for a short period of time, and any new drug is apt to be used sparingly and held in reserve to treat patients resistant to existing drugs.
Antibiotics have transformed medicine and saved countless lives over the past seven decades. Now, rampant overuse and the lack of new drugs in the pipeline threatens to undermine their effectiveness.