Drug companies and health professionals are quickly losing the evolutionary arms race with bacteria, as more pathogens begin to show antibiotic resistance and more patients are suffering treatment failures. In fact, the rate at which microbes are evolving resistance is handily outpacing Centers for Disease Control estimates as doctors struggle to find new treatments for tuberculosis, gonorrhea, E. Coli, and other bacterial illnesses.
But funding to fight the problem has been highly insignificant levels.
In the US, politicians have weighed whether to incentivize drug companies for developing new antibiotics, which are notoriously expensive to develop and not very profitable once they're ready to go. In May, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to award GlaxoSmithKline $200 million over five years to develop new antibiotics in an attempt to stave off resistance. It's a good start, but a drop in the bucket considering that GlaxoSmithKline spent $6.1 billion of its own money on research and development in 2010 alone.
Across the Atlantic, the picture has been much the same. Public health officials realize antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing problem, but funding for new antibiotics has been slow to increase. According to a new study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, United Kingdom-based research institutions received £2.6 billion ($4.2 billion USD) for antimicrobial research between 1997 and 2010, just 4 percent of that (£102 million) was earmarked for research on antibiotic-resistant diseases. The study looked at public funding as well as funding from independent sources such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Fund.
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