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Bad bugs, no drugs

The report focuses on the lack of antibiotics in the pharmaceutical pipeline. Until now, it says, problems of resistance have been overcome by the development of new drugs. The older ones, to which bacteria or parasites have become resistant get phased out, and the new effective ones are brought in. But what happens when the cupboard is bare?

After a year's investigation of the problem, the authors say that while all stakeholders have a part to play in reducing the effect of resistance, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are best placed to take the lead in developing new drugs. The reason for the slump in production has been the high risk involved in investing large sums of money in drugs that might not yield a high return (especially if the drugs are most needed in poor countries).

Legislative and policy changes are needed to spur the pharmaceutical industry into action, says the report. Changes might include allowing companies to extend the exclusivity period on drug patents if they develop a priority antibiotic, tax incentives for R&D of priority antibiotics, or a guaranteed market (for example, by a government or donor agreeing to buy large quantities of drugs).