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A post-antibiotic era – in which common infections can become more deadly – is a very real possibility for the 21st century.

Antibiotics have revolutionized medicine in many respects, and countless lives have been saved; their discovery was a turning point in human history. For almost a century, bacteria-fighting drugs known as antibiotics have helped to manage many of the harmful bacteria that can make us sick. But in recent decades, they have become less effective against some types of bacteria. Currently, certain bacteria are now unbeatable with today’s medicines. Unfortunately, new drug-resistant “superbugs” have emerged, which are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. In fact, the World Health Organization has classified this as “a serious threat [that] is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.”

The Post-Antibiotic Era

Why the global concern? By 2050, if the problem continues unabated, it is estimated that resistant infections could kill approximately 10 million people per year, according to a major report by economist Jim O'Neill. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can threaten the community with new infectious diseases that are more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. Treating once curable infections might become difficult or even impossible.

Active Antibacterial Discovery

While resistance is increasing, the number of new antimicrobial medicines being developed has decreased over the past several years. Merck is one of only a handful of pharmaceutical companies that still have an active antimicrobial discovery program. 

For more than 70 years, Merck has contributed to the discovery and development of novel medicines and vaccines to help combat infectious disease. In the 1940s, we were the first to mass produce penicillin for the war effort.  Merck’s recent acquisition of Cubist Pharmaceuticals, a global leader in antibiotics, underscores our ongoing commitment to advancing the research and development of new therapies to treat serious and life-threatening infections.

“The rise in infections that are resistant to current antibiotics has become one of the world’s most pressing public health problems,” said Julie L. Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H., executive vice president & chief patient officer, Merck. “We are proud to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to develop new therapeutics to fight infectious diseases, and to continue to collaborate with others to support antimicrobial stewardship to help slow the rate of emerging resistance.”

What is the difference between antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance?

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance refers specifically to the resistance to antibiotics that occurs in common bacteria that cause infections. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs to treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites (e.g. malaria), viruses (e.g. HIV) and fungi (e.g. Candida).



Where do infections happen?

Antibiotic-resistant infections can happen anywhere. Data show that most happen in the general community; however, most deaths related to antibiotic resistance happen in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Merck Acquires Cubist

Merck’s acquisition of Cubist Pharmaceuticals bolsters our strong foundation in antibiotics and our future in the hospital acute care market.

What can we do to avoid the generation of resistance?

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