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A radical plan to save antibiotics

The Guardian, September 7, 2010

What are we to do about the diminishing power of antibiotics - once the miracle drugs that looked set to end infectious diseases? We know the problem is becoming very serious - here is a piece I wrote about the alarming prospects for a future without antibiotics.

But we don't hear much in the way of imaginative answers. So it's refreshing to read a paper out this morning from Aaron Kesselheim, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and Kevin Outterson, a professor at Boston University Law School.

Their analysis, published in the journal Health Affairs, says the usual idea, to give pharmaceutical companies financial incentives to invent and manufacture more antibiotics, won't work. One of the reasons we are in this parlous state of affairs, they say, is that drug companies in the past have tried too hard to sell more tablets. Of course, the misuse of the drugs - physicians over-prescribing and patients not completing the course - is largely to blame, but companies have been disciplined for promoting wrong uses of antibiotics. They cite two cases involving Pfizer. In one of those, in 2005, the company, they say, was warned by the Food and Drug Administration