Infection is the second biggest cause of death worldwide but even as resistance to antibiotics is growing, development of new drugs is in decline. Economic, regulatory and scientific factors contribute to the situation, which is converging with a scarcity of antibiotics to treat infectious diseases prevalent mainly in poor countries.
In this article in Nature, Carl Nathan of the Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences of Cornell University outlines a "three-part vision" for addressing the situation. Regulatory demands and patent incentives should be revised, and researchers should start applying new technologies to antibiotic development, says Nathan.
Non-profit drug companies are of central importance, according to Nathan. These, he says, could license their intellectual property for free to agencies and companies that pledge to produce and distribute drugs at low cost to those with the greatest need. Some small non-commercial drug companies do exist, focusing on diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis and tuberculosis. But, he adds, the number needs to be greatly increased to research the major infectious diseases being inadequately served by the pharmaceutical industry.