A study in the May 1 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases shows that very few new antibiotics are being developed, despite the emergence of drug-resistant sexually transmitted diseases, staph infections, and other bacterial illnesses. Researchers evaluated Food and Drug Administration databases of approved drugs and the data on research and development of new antibiotics from dozens of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. FDA approval of new antibiotics declined 56% during the past 20 years, and only six new antibiotics were in the development pipeline out of a total of 506 new drugs being studied.
"Pharmaceutical companies appear to be more interested in developing drugs that patients take for life, such as those used to treat hypertension or arthritis," said lead study author Brad Spellberg of the Research and Education Institute and Department of Medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. "By comparison, antibiotics are usually prescribed for one or two weeks at most."
The problem of dwindling numbers of new antibiotics will worsen in the future as more and more bacterial diseases develop resistance to existing antibiotic treatments, the researchers say. Because of this, physicians are trying to limit their use of newer drugs to prevent diseases from becoming resistant to them as well. Strains of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea that are resistant to both first-line and secondary antibiotic treatments have been confirmed among gay men in Hawaii, California, Washington, Illinois, Texas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maine. Drug-resistant staph infections, also known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, were reported last year among hundreds of gay and HIV-positive men in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Boston. Some of these infections were so resistant to standard antibiotic treatments that patients had to be admitted to hospitals for intravenous medications.