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Developing New Antibiotics Can Control 'Superbug' Outbreaks


Barry Kreiswirth, PhD, founding director, Public Health Research Institute Tuberculosis Center, professor of medicine at Rutgers University, discusses the alarming rate of which antibiotic-resistant strains and genes are spreading worldwide and our need for new, effective antibiotics to counteract it.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“Historically, since the introduction of antibiotics, we’ve always had this competition between bacteria becoming resistant to a given drug and the drug companies really being way ahead. I think [that] over the years, in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, we really experienced the idea that the drug companies were really ahead of their game. What’s happened over the last 20 years is that the drug companies have stopped making effective antibiotics; it’s mostly a monetary game [in that] it’s not treating chronic diseases, it’s treating a disease that has a limited lifespan and also a limited shelf life for the drugs [that] they make. It’s mostly monetary, but because of that we now have a gap.

What concerns me is that, not only do we have highly drug-resistant strains spreading and we have [drug-resistant] genes that are spreading, we really have no mechanism to stop their spread; the only way to really do it is to develop new, effective antibiotics to basically control these outbreaks and lessen the spread from patient to patient, or in this case, plasmid spreading to different strains. This is a worry, and in gram-negatives, given the fact that plasmids are spreading, the speed [at] which we’re seeing this resistance, not only spreading in the United States, but globally, has now become a global epidemic, mainly because of people traveling, people harboring these bacteria in their guts asymptomatically, but literally spreading them when they have an event in a hospital.

The speed is pretty alarming. The carbapenem-resistance is really a 15- to 20-year-old problem and it didn’t really start spreading until the last 5 to 10 years. Yes, it is a little astounding how rapid we’re seeing resistance. We’re really behind the eight-ball because the bugs have developed resistance faster than the drug companies have made new antibiotics.”
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