'Golden age' of antibiotics 'set to end'

Posted Jan 8, 2014 by Cameron Christner
What most people assumed were permanent advances in medicine may become anything but, as pathogens gradually build immunity to antibiotics.
Tom Varco (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Older than humanity itself, diseases have an incredible ability to adapt, and in doing so, can circumvent human-developed medicines such as antibiotics.
Professor Jeremy Farrar, the newly-appointed head of Britain's largest medical research charity, said that growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics was a "truly global issue."
As diseases such as gonorrhoea become more common and more difficult to treat, Farrar fears they will eventually overcome our ability to fight them.
A major cause of the problem existing in the first place is an alarming decrease in antibiotic research and development, with only four pharmaceutical companies working on antibiotics today, compared with 18 companies 20 years ago.
As a result, only five new antibiotics have been manufactured in the last 10 years.
In contrast, the ever-encroaching threat of untreatable disease has not slowed down, and if Professor Farrar is correct, antibiotics may soon become obsolete, opening the door for deadly diseases to become untreatable.
This isn't even the first warning we have received. England’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies described last year the growing resistance to antibiotics as a "ticking time bomb," and said the threat should be ranked among terrorism on a list of greatest threats to the nation.
Farrar also stresses that the danger is not about a super-virus that could spread across the world and wipe out humanity like we see in the movies.
Instead, it has been and will continue to be a very slow and almost unnoticeable immunization process.
"This will creep up on us insidiously, and of course that's in many ways more difficult to cope with," says Farrar.
In response to this global problem, the professor called for government legislation to give industries incentive to work on antibiotics, and greater restrictions on access to these medicines.
He also points out that public awareness is critical. After all, a recent study shows that around half of the people in Britain do now know that antibiotics are not to be used to treat most everyday diseases, like colds and the flu.
The more antibiotics are used arbitrarily, the faster diseases will adapt to become immune, creating an invisible global threat the world is only too familiar with.