We at ACSH are fortunate to have amongst our erudite Advisors Dr. David Shlaes, one of the world experts in the fields of both antibiotic research and FDA regulatory policies. Shlaes has been intimately involved with the FDA, which he has both criticized and worked with, trying to prevent us from entering a pre-penicillin age, when there were no effective treatments for bacterial infections.
His latest commentary, entitled Newt Gingrich, The NIH And Antibiotics, a featured story on the Science 2.0 website, delves into the politics of antibiotic research. It should be of no surprise that politicians can only make matters worse.
Shlaes discusses an op-ed in the New York Times by Newt Gingrich, in which he proposes doubling the budget of the NIH so that more research can be done in several disease areas. The problem? The word antibiotic is not mentioned once in the op-ed.
Some comments by Dr. Shlaes:
Mr. Gingrich correctly points out that the NIH budget has been flat for years and that this has eroded the nation s ability to carry out needed fundamental research. Of course, this situation is nothing new for antibiotic researchers.
Dr. Shlaes, who served as a reviewer on the NIH s Drug Discovery and Resistance Study Section says, Having lived through decades of essentially no funding [for antibiotic research], there was relief starting in 2006 with at least some funding - we funded only 6-10% of grants submitted because of a lack of money not because we had no good grants to fund.
But money is not the only problem. When most drug companies dropped their antibiotic discovery programs in the 1990s, because of a misguided change in the FDA s requirements for clinical trials of new antibiotics, there is also a shortage of expertise in this area: The NIH has yet to put in place a program that will train antibiotic researchers in the areas of drug discovery and development within the pharmaceutical industry, where the special knowledge still exists - at least for now.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a former researcher in the antibiotic field says, This is not a sexy topic, such as Dr. Oz vs. the medical community, so it doesn t get much attention from the press. If it does, it will be because it is already too late, and otherwise-healthy people will be dying in huge numbers. This is not the kind of news coverage we want to see.