Infectious Disease

For more than 70 years, Merck has contributed to the discovery and development of novel medicines and vaccines to combat infectious diseases.

Yet the fight against infectious disease is also a fight against the increasing number of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to current medicines.

Since 2002, Merck has sponsored The Study for Monitoring Antimicrobial Resistance Trends (SMART), one of the world’s largest programs for tracking trends in antimicrobial resistance. The information collected and shared through SMART can help local and global health agencies improve surveillance so they can better understand this phenomena and select appropriate antibiotics for their patients.

An Urgent Need

The rise in antimicrobial resistance over the past 10 years has become one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Merck’s longstanding commitment to the global fight against infectious disease goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to help slow the growth rate of resistance.

Many infectious diseases are increasingly difficult to treat because of antimicrobial-resistant organisms. And many infections acquired in hospitals are caused by bacteria that are resistant to at least one commonly used drug therapy.

There’s an economic toll on families and societies as well. Antibiotic resistance in the United States alone costs an estimated $20 billion a year in excess healthcare costs and more than 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital.

A Complex Problem

Antibiotics are the most important tool we have to combat life-threatening bacterial disease. Since they were first widely used during World World II, antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs have saved countless lives.

The great irony is that antimicrobial resistance is the inevitable consequence of prescribing antibiotics. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply.

Overuse and improper use of antibiotics helps accelerate the growth of drug-resistant germs and increase the need for new medicines to kill them. And if overuse and improper use continues, so does the cycle of increased resistance.

"The medical community has been waging an escalating battle with emerging resistant bacteria since shortly after penicillin began to be mass-produced in the 1940s," said Michael Rosenblatt, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, Merck.

Staying the Course

An added complication is the fact that while resistance is increasing, the number of new antimicrobial medicines being developed has decreased over the past several years. Discovering novel medicines to combat resistant bacteria requires more effort and the commercial value of such medicines is poor compared to other disease treatments. Merck is one of only a handful of pharmaceutical companies that still have an active antibacterial discovery program.

Most recently, in June 2012, Merck joined the TB Drug Acceleration partnership, a collaboration of seven pharmaceutical companies, four research institutions and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focused on speeding the discovery of new treatments for tuberculosis.


Merck has a longstanding history of fighting infectious disease.

Learn more


Decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is the best way to control resistance and preserve the effectiveness of current infectious disease medicines. Find out what you can do.

Learn more