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The antibiotics market is falling apart

It may not be long before the world simply doesn’t have many effective antibiotics, according to a scary piece by Maryn McKenna in Wired.

The bottom line: “The drugs we have for heart disease, for depression, for cancer, the vaccine for measles—they’ll still work. But antibiotics will be crushed,” Kevin Outterson, who runs an initiative that supports antibiotic research, told Wired.

Between the lines:

  • Bacterial resistance eventually renders many antibiotics useless.
  • The big pharmaceutical companies have largely gotten out of the antibiotics business.
  • Research to develop new antibiotics is expensive and time-consuming. So small biotech companies have to hang on for decades without a product. But experts think many of those companies will instead have to go out of business — and that will leave us without much of a pipeline to replace existing drugs as they become obsolete.

McKenna suggests treating antibiotics not like other pharmaceuticals, which are developed and sold on the free market, but like infrastructure or military technology.

  • The government would define a need, solicit bids, and defray the research costs of the company that delivers, in exchange for tight control over how its products are used in the future.
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