NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Biotechs Look for New Antibiotics

June 26, 2003

Drug-resistant bacteria are killing tens of thousands of patients every year, and standby antibiotics like Cipro are becoming less useful in fighting disease. Experts say the cost of treating resistant infections may be as much as $30 billion annually.

Many big drug companies have relinquished the task of finding new antibiotics to smaller biotechnology firms, which typically take abandoned antibiotics and re-develop them.

  • GeneSoft Pharmaceuticals recently won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Factive, a pill similar to Cipro that can treat lower respiratory infections.
  • Eli Lilly discovered and abandoned Cidecin, an injection to treat hospital-acquired skin infections, but Cubist Pharmaceuticals acquired it, improved it, and is waiting for FDA approval.
  • Another biotech firm, Intermune, is testing a different antibiotic abandoned by Eli Lilly.

GeneSoft is going even further. Its co-founder, Peter Dervan of the California Institute of Technology, has invented "DNA-nanobinders," tiny molecules that bind to enough places in a bacterium's DNA to cause its cells to, in essence, commit suicide.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding this research in the hopes of finding a single nanobinder pill that could fight bioterror agents like smallpox and anthrax.

Source: Matthew Herper, "Bug Wars," Forbes, July 7, 2003.

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