We Need New Antibiotics

There haven’t been any significant new antibiotics in 30 years. One reason is that fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Floxin) have been linked to serious nerve and mitochondrial damage. Another, and possibly more fundamental reason is that there in no money in it.

Dr. Mike was administered a large dose of fluoroquinolone drug for MRSA sepsis following bilateral total knee replacements. What ensued was a medical nightmare. Details can be found here.

Despite scary warnings on the box, and several million people who have experienced side effects, the drug continues to be widely prescribed. Though it can save lives, it is surely overprescribed.

Dr. Mike called the FDA, largely in the hope that others could be spared the life-threatening ordeal he went through. He got fairly high up in the organization and was told that since the drug is on a WHO essential medicine list, it was never going away. The FDA also mentioned that due to the money the drug manufacturers had had to pay out, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for new antibiotics.

A friend in the pharmaceutical industry had a more direct explanation for this paucity of development: there’s no money in it. Drug companies want drugs you have to take for the rest of your life. That’s a big reason statins are such a pharma darling. But with antibiotics, a ten-day course is all it takes. The patient recovers, and that’s the end of it.

However, consider this from the point of view of bacteria. They can evolve, reformulate, and re-infect with little concern for FDA regulations and side effects. And that’s exactly what they have done. One of the nastier bacteria is staph. It blocks the immune system’s memory function, so one may get infection after infection. (Normally the immune system remembers an invader’s pattern for life. Hence immunity after a disease.)

With the immune system failing to work, attention was turned to drugs. Penicillin proved very effective—for about 10 years. By the 1950’s, staph had already developed immunity to this drug. Then came methicillin. By the 60’s staph had mutated around that one and we had first reports on MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) the first “superbug.” MRSA has further evolved to come in two “grades”: community grade and hospital grade. Hospital grade is the more virulent. It is believed that 30% of the population is MRSA colonized. And MRSA is now a killer, claiming 11,000 lives per year in the U.S. alone.

MRSA is not the only superbug. The list is growing, and treatment possibilities are not. Can’t we get some new drugs? We are facing a very serious problem. If pharma isn’t interested, what about governments? As it turn out, there is activity…


Both WHO and The EU have programs to both fund new development and to also make new development attractive to the pharmaceutical industry. This has been going on about ten years. It is comforting that there is this interest, but it does not seem that any breakthroughs have been made.


The simplest is washing hands, especially after a visit to public places (gyms, public transportation, shopping, etc.) Hand sanitizers don’t do much, but they are probably better than nothing.

Treat any cut, even if minor, ASAP. Betadine, available over the counter, is murder on MRSA. Watch for infections.

Stay out of hospitals and finally…

Keep your immune system in tip-top shape. The Quantitative Medicine lifestyle is an effective way to do that.

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