DRUG companies are unwilling to tackle the serious problem of antibiotic resistance because it is not a lucrative market, an international professor in infectious diseases says.
The rise in life-threatening staphylococcus infections, particularly the superbug MRSA, often acquired in hospitals and more frequently in the community, has medical experts increasingly worried .
One in five Australian patients hospitalised with staphylococcus bacteria will die within a 30-day period, a study published in the October issue of the Medical Journal of Australia showed. Of the 1,865 patients analysed, 317 were in Queensland hospitals with a 16.4 per cent 30-day mortality rate.
Speaking at a Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital symposium last week, pathology professor Victor Lim said the increase in infections had been fuelled by the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which meant they were no longer effective.
Professor Lim said drug companies had stopped producing new types of antibiotics to combat the problem.
"Unfortunately the pipeline has dried up," said Professor Lim from Kuala Lumpur's International Medical University. "Over the last three decades there has only been two new classes of antibiotics. In fact most pharmaceutical companies have lost interest in developing anything that is effective because there is much more money to be made in other classes of drugs."
Professor Lim said treatment using antibiotic drugs was only necessary for a couple of weeks "and as far as a return on their investment it is not lucrative. To develop a drug costs billions and they will only put the money in if there is a gainful return," he said.
Professor Lim said these infections were on the rise in several Asian countries including Thailand, Taiwan and particularly India.
"There is a high level of resistance among pathogens in the Asia region," he said. "It is important to know what is happening with your neighbours because resistant pathogens can spread across boundaries and we need to work together. If this bacteria becomes more and more resistant we are destined to go back to the pre-antibiotic era with much higher death rates from certain diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and typhoid."