Almost all today’s antibiotics were developed decades ago and, of the 42 antibiotics under development worldwide, only five are considered truly new, and only one targets bacteria of greatest drug-resistance concern.
A leading microbiologist warned, in 1994, that antibiotics are in danger of becoming powerless to fight off new strains of super resistant bacteria. This could see diseases that are now curable (eg pneumonia, blood poisoning and tuberculosis) returning as the great mass killer they once were, even in the developed world.
The first antibiotic, penicillin, had remarkable success in saving wounded soldiers, who would otherwise have perished from blood infections, during World War II. By 1946, the first signs appeared that some rare bacterial strains had developed resistance to penicillin.
In 1967, the first penicillin-resistant forms of one of the dangerous strains of bacteria Pneumococcus sp, which causes pneumonia, meningitis and middle-ear infections in children, was discovered in Papua New Guinea. Within a decade it began to produce epidemics in South African hospitals, and is now a global problem. In hospitals throughout the west, Staphylococcus aureus (the most common cause of skin, wound and blood-stream infections) has already become legendary for its ability to collect resistance traits against antibacterial agents.