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Understand  –  Antibiotics

History of antibiotic development

Brief history of antibiotic development as medicines

The first commercially available antibacterial was Prontosil, a sulfonamide developed by the German biochemist Gerhard Domagk in the 1930s. Before this, in 1928, Alexander Fleming had discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, but it took over a decade before penicillin was introduced as a treatment for bacterial infections. This was possible through the work of Florey and Chain who managed to efficiently purify the antibiotic and scale-up production. The introduction of penicillin marked the beginning of the so-called “golden era” of antibiotics. Between 1940 and 1962, most of the antibiotic classes we use as medicines today were discovered and introduced to the market. Each class typically contains several antibiotics that have been discovered over time or are modified versions of previous types. There are for example numerous β-lactams (pronounced beta-lactams) such as different penicillins and cephalosporins.

Lack of new antibiotics

Today, there are very few novel antibiotics under development. At the same time antibiotic resistant bacteria that survives antibiotic treatment are becoming more and more prevalent, making available antibiotics ineffective. Thus, we are inevitably facing a major health problem. Read more about the problems with antibiotic discovery and development under How did we end up here? – Few antibiotics under development.

Below are selected resources on the history of antibiotic development.

Selected Resources

Resource Description
Antimicrobial resistance learning site – Historical perspectives Course website. An historical overview of the treatment of bacterial diseases, from ancient times to the pre-antibiotic era, onwards to the discovery and development of antibiotics. Includes videos/documentaries.
Antibiotics and Bacterial Resistance in the 21st Century Journal article that describes approaches to developing antibacterial agents and the history of established antibiotic classes.

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