The Unmet Need
Procedures such as organ transplantation and cancer chemotherapy are delayed or canceled because the antibiotics used to rescue fragile patients from infections can no longer be relied upon to save them. A recent UK government-sponsored analysis forecasted an apocalyptic scenario in the year 2050 where the number of deaths due to drug-resistant infections will exceed those from cancer today.
While drug resistance can be accelerated by inappropriate use of antibiotics in settings where they aren’t needed, appropriate use of antibiotics in life saving situations also fosters eventual drug resistance. This situation is unlike other human diseases, and requires ongoing innovation to insure active antibiotics are available to patients.
Beta-lactam Antibiotics: The Usefulness of this Critical Class of Antibiotics is Being Lost
The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the 1920s was one the most impactful advances in medicine in the last century. Penicillin and the subsequent improvements in newer forms of penicillin-like drugs such as cephalosporins and carbapenems resulted in improved efficacy and safety over the past several decades such that these drugs remain preferred choices for treatment in many settings.
Alarmingly, resistance in gram-negative bacteria the beta-lactam antibiotic class is reversing the gains made over the last 35 years with these new drugs. The loss of this class of drugs become the “ tipping point” in the loss of effective antibiotics for treatment of serious infections.
The most common form of resistance to the penicillin, cephalosporin, and carbapenem classes of drugs occurs due to production of an enzyme by bacteria that destroys the antibiotic. These enzymes, called beta-lactamases, have spread among bacteria worldwide.