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Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

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6 The antibiotic discovery void

The last class of antibiotic approved for clinical treatment was the lipopeptides, such as daptomycin, in 1987 (Figure 9).

A timeline showing antibiotic discovery.
Figure 9 Timeline of antibiotic discovery.

A combination of factors is responsible for the ‘discovery void’. It can take between 12 and 15 years to develop a new drug and to clear regulatory hurdles, at a cost of around £1.5 billion (GSK, 2018). The number of novel antibiotics discovered through screening large numbers of soil bacteria has fallen considerably and synthetic approaches have been disappointing. Due to these practical and financial difficulties, many pharmaceutical companies closed their antibiotic development programmes after the 1980s. You will learn more about the barriers to developing new antibiotics in Week 6.

Of the 51 potential new antibiotics currently in development, only ten are expected to be licensed for clinical use within ten years (WHO, 2017a).

A lack of new drugs is not the only problem though, as you will discover next.