I just came across some news, which scared the living daylights out of me. News that has been a reality within the medicine fraternity for decades now. Did you know that the last time any pharmaceutical company developed a new antibiotic – a new class of medically tested antibiotics was in the mid-1980s?
Yes, for over three decades there has been little if any discovery of a new group of compounds that work as antibiotics. The reason behind this lack of new discovery on the antibiotics front is the lack of commercial incentives for even the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
It takes a lot of funding and time to sit in a lab somewhere, conduct your experiments and come up with a new antibiotic compound. If you happen to come up with one, that is just 5% of the work. The new antibiotic will have to undergo further tests and monitoring by other third-party medical organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and in the U.S. the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Before being allowed for us by the public.
As a scientist, unless you do it illegally (in secret and thereby breaking several medical regulation rules), even to get to the stage of human-subject trials is a long process. Obviously, a scientist as an individual has neither the resources or facilities to develop these drugs. If at all they are going to do their research, the need to work with big pharmaceutical companies with the financial muscle to fund their research.
As you may already know, the pharmaceutical industry is a global business worth one trillion dollar and to them as businesses. It makes little financial sense to invest so much into finding new drugs if they will take decades under the microscope of medical regulatory bodies such as WHO and FDA before being commercialized and bring in profits.
They have, therefore, resorted to producing more of what is already approved and available in the market. And produce they do, in multiple quantities and as fast as possible. The problem then become the general public keeps getting more of the same drugs. People are getting the wrong prescription of antibiotics. People are taking the wrong dosage of the drugs.
Yet on the other hand, the bacteria being treated are mutating and developing immunity to the already available antibiotics in the market.
“This is a crisis that has many similarities to climate change in that it’s a slow-moving crisis with potentially catastrophic consequences. The major difference from climate change is there’s less recognition of this issue, and addressing it would be so much easier,” said Richard Ebright from the Waksman Institute of Microbiology in New Jersey.
“[Without antibiotics] you can’t do surgery of any kind, you can’t do chemotherapy, you can’t do immunotherapy, you can’t do transplantation… All of the branches of medicine that exist and all of the drugs that are sold into those branches are absolutely dependent on the existence of antibiotics.”
Around the world, doctors are finding antibiotics they have been prescribing no longer effective as they were in the past. Some are completely useless, leading to sepsis and the patient’s condition quickly turning fatal.
In New York, hospitals are battling with an outbreak of Candida auris, a resilient fungal infection that has since become immune to multiple antibiotics. Across the Atlantic, in the UK, hospitals are also battling with increasing cases of urinary tract infections that were easy to treat in the past. In India and Kenya, infectious diseases like malaria and gonorrhea are becoming stubborn to treat and eradicate.
WHO says most of the drugs that have all along been used to treat these illnesses are proving to be “useless.”
Researchers now turning to Graves, Fungus, and Lizards
Researchers’ interest has been picked by a strange and solemn pilgrimage people in Northern Ireland have been making for over 200 years to a small rural area called Boho (pronounced ‘bo’). Where they go to a cemetery, take the soil on top of the graveyard, pay with it and return it when they are done.
The locals dubbed it the ‘Boho cure’ and is as popular now as it was tens of years ago. The local even swear on it that it cured them on various ailments, but the medical scientists describe it nothing more than a placebo effect. However, in October 2018, medical scientists did a study on the soil and discovered a potentially new antibiotic-producing strain of bacteria.
These researchers are part of ‘bioprospectors’ who scour the planet from top of the mountains to the seabed, sifting through things in search of potentially new antibiotics. They are looking for new chemistry that will give forth the next generation of antibiotic drugs, as the current ones fade into ‘uselessness.’
In the 50s and 60s, during the ‘golden era’ of antibiotics, pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Abbot encouraged competition among staffs to scavenge the globe in search of new drugs. Whenever a staff would go for a vacation, our out in their patio during the weekend. They would be encouraged to scoop up a bit of the dirt and bring it back to work as soil samples.
Thanks to that, bioprospectors made huge libraries of potentially useful chemistry that supports modern medicine. However, that slowed in the 80s and 90s to becoming virtually inexistent today, since the production of a new cure is no longer profitable for pharmaceutical companies due to the long time it takes for approval.