The Chief Medical Officer for England warned recently that we may be entering the post-antibiotic era. Despite the difficulties of developing new antibiotics, a BBC World Service documentary reports that there is hope. It may come from using ways to stop bacteria communicating with one another or, as one scientist put it, disrupting their social communication. Will it come fast enough, though? Even if the ideas pan out, it will probably be a decade before they even go into trials. Meanwhile, we haven’t had a new class of antibiotics since the 1970s. It’s thirty minutes long but well worth listening.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief MO, was speaking during an earlier and rather duller BBC radio documentary on superbugs which, as often happens on File On 4, focussed on airing the grievances that one public service has against another. Dame Sally painted an apocalyptic picture where routine operations could become deadly in just 20 years if we lose the ability to fight infection. The programme made the important point that pharma companies need incentives if they are to focus all their energies on new antibiotics but the likely outcome is that the drugs would be confiscated by cheap and desperate health systems (that’s not quite how the BBC put it, obviously)