Readers respond to a recent article and letter published in the Guardian
I would like to clarify that, contrary to your article (The microbes are fighting back, and if anyone thinks there is a simple solution, they are wrong, 25 January), a few decades ago precisely no one in drug discovery thought that the war against infectious diseases had been won. Sir Alexander Fleming, who first discovered antibiotics, warned of microbial resistance and it has been known about ever since.
The reason drug companies have shied away from antibiotic research is, as mentioned in the article, that it is extremely difficult to discover new ones. Unfortunately, a proposal to alter the way new drugs are rewarded will not change this. Every drug company knows that any new, effective antibiotic will be an instant “blockbuster”. The problem is that, even with the best minds in the world, most efforts at discovering new antibiotics will fail. Hopefully some will not, but there is no way to pick a winner until they have gone through the long, exacting, expensive process of clinical trials. We must therefore be willing to pay for research. The “winners” will pay for themselves many times over. But to find out which is the winner, we must pay for the “losers” too.
Dr Dominic Pye
Research chemist, London