Why aren't antibiotics always effective?

Antibiotic Resistance - The Global Danger

Status: 01/27/2017 5:26 p.m. | archive

Antibiotics are actually substances that occur everywhere in nature. They are formed by tiny living things called microorganisms. These include, for example, bacteria or certain types of fungus. These microorganisms are in a constant battle for their habitat. They use antibiotics as weapons. Bacteria and fungi make these substances to kill other microorganisms or stop them from multiplying.

The discovery of penicillin

Alexander Fleming discovered the effects of antibiotics and thus revolutionized medicine.

The Scottish explorer Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered this weapon in the late 1920s. He had grown bacteria for his work. However, mold had gotten into one of the cultures he had started. Fleming discovered that where the mold had spread, the bacteria had disappeared. The researcher continued experimenting and found that the fungi produce a substance that kills certain bacteria. And since the fungi belonged to the genus of brush mold - in Latin: Penicillium - Flemming called the substance penicillin. People were treated with it for the first time during World War II.

Bacteria develop defense properties

The weapons can, however, become blunt. Because the affected bacteria can protect themselves and develop defensive properties against antibiotics. These are the so-called resistances. Once a bacterium has acquired such a property, the drug can no longer harm it. Other pathogens die. The resistant bacteria can then spread even more strongly: They then have fewer competitors with whom they have to fight for space and food.

Bacteria multiply and spread. And they can develop defensive properties: the resistances.

The resistant pathogens spread very quickly. Bacteria multiply by dividing. They practically copy or clone themselves. Many types of bacteria duplicate in this way about every 20 to 40 minutes. This means that one pathogen can grow to more than a billion within half a day. In addition, there is a special feature of many types of bacteria: They can not only pass their resistance properties on to subsequent generations, but also to other bacteria that are in the immediate vicinity.

Why are there so few new resources?

That is why it is so important that new antibiotics are always available for treatment. But in the last few decades almost none of them came onto the market. There are various reasons for this. It is true that the reservoir that occurs in nature is huge. However, many antibiotics are unsuitable for treating people because they not only kill bacteria, but also other cells - so they have sometimes severe, sometimes even fatal side effects. In addition, it is difficult for many microorganisms to grow artificially in the laboratory and thus to use them for the manufacture of medicines.

Low earning potential

New antibiotics hardly ever come onto the market. They are not lucrative enough.

Finding a new, effective and non-toxic antibiotic and bringing it to market is therefore time-consuming and expensive. Many companies shy away from these investments because the profit opportunities are very small - especially when compared to other drugs, for example against cancer or diabetes. If things go well, antibiotics are only taken for a few days, then the patient is cured. In addition, new agents should be used as cautiously as possible or not at all, initially only serve as a reserve as long as the previous antibiotics are still effective.

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My afternoon | 01/27/2017 | 4:10 p.m.