The History of Penicillin

Penicillin and antibiotics have profoundly changed the way in which we fight diseases. But how did they come about? Learn about the development of these life changing treatments, as well as antibiotic resistence.


Antibiotic Resistance

In 1940 Edward Abraham and Ernst Chain reported that an *E.coli* strain was able to inactivate penicillin by producing an active enzyme called *penicillinase*, while, in 1945, Alexander Fleming predicted that the high demand for antibiotics would introduce an “era of abuse.” Once penicillin became available by prescription, the antibiotic started to be overused and Fleming’s prediction became a reality.

Since then, studies have proved the correlation between increased antibiotic use and the emergence of resistance, with each new generation of antibiotics following the same trend. To survive, germs that cause infections develop defense strategies against antibiotics called resistance mechanisms. These *resistance mechanisms* include changing or even destroying the antibiotic with enzymes that break down the drug. As a result, diseases are becoming harder or even impossible to treat.

The Need for New Antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance is also known as *antimicrobial resistance* or *AMR*. The World Health Organization has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity today, with certain infections such as pneumonia and TB becoming increasingly harder to treat.

According to The World Health Organization, new antibiotics are urgently needed but the clinical pipeline is limited; only 32 antibiotics addressing The World Health Organization’s list of priority pathogens were identified in clinical development in 2019, of which only 6 were classified as innovative. However, if current practices in how antibiotics are prescribed and used don’t improve, any new drugs developed will also eventually become ineffective.

Research into the human gut microbiome – the community of helpful bacteria that reside within our digestive systems – has also begun to show the dangers of overuse of antibiotics. In particular, over prescription of ‘broad-spectrum’ antibiotics that indiscriminately eradicate both bad *and* good bacteria within us.

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