NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Super Antibiotics To Fight Hospital Infections

October 1, 1999

Since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of patients -- many of whom are among a hospital's most severely ill or are recovering from surgery -- have been infected by mutant forms of life- threatening bacterial germs that have developed resistance to all existing drugs, including vancomycin, a powerful drug used to beat back such infections.

But the drug industry is making gains in the race to develop "super-antibiotics."

  • Among these is a completely new type of antibiotic called Zyvox, from Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc., aimed at drug- resistant germs that cause potentially deadly cases of pneumonia and dangerous skin and blood infections.
  • In large-scale patient trials, researchers showed that Zyvox was effective about 74 percent to 89 percent of the time in treating two of the most common types of drug-resistant bacterial infections surfacing in hospitals.
  • Although the drug is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some doctors already have used the medicine under a special emergency program to stanch outbreaks of drug-resistant hospital infections.
  • While useful only against gram-positive bacteria, the company says Zyvox is effective against about 4,000 of them.

"Hospital-based infections among seriously ill patients have become one of the most worrisome of our nation's health problems," says Ron Jones, who runs a program called Sentry that tracks drug resistance world-wide.

Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the rate of such hospital-acquired infections has climbed about 36 percent in the past 20 years and that about 90,000 Americans die each year from such infections.

Some estimate the total number of cases worldwide at about two million a year.

Source: Michael Waldholz, "As Bacteria Outsmart Old Antibiotics , Drug Makers Ready New Arsenal," Wall Street Journal, September 27, 1999.


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