1. A plentiful supply
Over a century of discovery
Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were first developed over a century ago. Scroll through our gallery to see some of the key moments and structures as the number of new antibiotics increased rapidly, then slowed to a trickle.
A question of time
It’s striking how different the timescales have been between discovery, approval and bacteria developing resistance to new antibiotics. In some cases, that’s because drugs that were initially regarded as poor prospects because of low potency or problems with toxicity have become more valuable as bacteria developed resistance to other drugs. The first lipiarmycin and pleuromutilin drugs, for example, were developed decades after the classes were first discovered.
2. The rise of resistance
Antibiotics are crucial drugs, prescribed around the world every day. But their usage is neither uniform nor static. The data below shows how usage changed between 2000 and 2018, and also reveals in which countries the supply of drugs is more limited.
Resistance is a growing problem
And the countries with lower availability of antibiotics – usually poorer ones – are generally the ones with more bugs that are resistant to the drugs. This map shows where the problem is worse based on analysis of genes associated with AMR present in bacteria found in wastewater.
What resistance means
Predictably, it’s the poorer countries without access to antibiotics and with more drug-resistant bacteria that suffer the most deaths attributable to AMR. Resistance is a complex issue that isn’t linked solely to antibiotic use; a broad range of factors relating to public health policies and infrastruture all play a part.
3. Where will new antibiotics come from?
Recently approved drugs
Only a few new antibiotic drugs have been released in recent years – and no new classes since the 1980s. In this visualisation showing when different agencies approved recent antibiotics, hovering over the date bars shows to which class the drug belongs, its tradename and its marketing authorisation holder (MAH).
Antibiotics in clinical development
There are more drugs being developed, but most are still in early phases of clinical trials. And it’s notable that not many of them are being developed by the big pharma companies. Read more on current efforts to create new antibiotics.
The money problem
The lack of interest from big pharma is most likely caused by the historically poor return on investment antibiotics offer compared to the cost of developing them. But how does that compare to the potential cost to society if new drugs are not developed? Read more on how governments and NGOs are trying to incentivise antibiotic drug development.