Human Exceptionalism

Extend Patents for New Antibiotics

Public health officials tell us that we may be coming to the end of the antibiotic era.

Antibiotics,starting with penicillin, effectively treated bacterial infections. But now, overuse of antibiotics has led to resistant strains of bacteria–and it could be very bad news. From the Daily Mail story:

A high-ranking official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared in an interview with PBS that the age of antibiotics has come to an end. ‘For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about “The end of antibiotics, question mark?”‘ said Dr Arjun Srinivasan. ‘Well, now I would say you can change the title to “The end of antibiotics, period.”’

Some are pointing to drug companies for not developing new drugs.

Srinivasan added that pharmaceutical companies are at least partially to blame for this problem, saying that they have neglected the development of new and more sophisticated antibiotics that could keep up with bacterial resistance because ‘there’s not much money to be made’ in this field.

Isn’t it funny how big drug companies are always the enemy, but we always want them to do more?

Before we get too upset with the evil pharmaceutical industry, remember that it can take billions to develop a new drug. And, we have restricted the patent time for the drugs they successfully develop to permit less expensive generics to be manufactured.

It seems to me that if we want new and better antibiotics–we should ensure that the financial risk taken has the potential to lead to a substantial financial gain by extending the patent life for new antibiotics an extra ten years from the time it receives formal approval. Then, maybe, drug companies will more energetically jump into the research for new antibiotics.

We could also have the NIH fund more research into antibiotics and make the results available to everyone. But that would mean making antibiotics a priority over other areas of research. I’m not sure the politics would permit such an explicit triage.

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