More Than 100 New
Drugs Coming To Fight
New Resistant Infections
By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 100 new drugs are in the works to fight infections by bacteria, viruses and fungi -- but people have to realize no drug is ever a magic bullet against microbes, a U.S. drug manufacturer's group said Monday. The drugs range from new compounds designed to fight ''superbugs'' that have evolved to resist antibiotics, to existing AIDS drugs that have shown some promise against other viruses such as hepatitis or herpes, to new vaccines. According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which lobbies on behalf of drug companies, 136 different drugs made by 78 different companies are in development for use against infections. Not all are completely new, said Dr. John Siegfried, senior medical officer at PhRMA. ``The things that excite me are conceptual things such as being able to give a flu vaccine by a nasal spray and what that can mean in terms of going into nursing homes and schools and being able to vaccinate larger populations,'' he said.

Siegfried was describing Aviron's FluMist, which has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. ``I see vaccines for cervical cancer and I say wow,'' Siegfried added -- a reference to vaccines in the works against genital warts, the most common cause of cervical cancer. They include products by Cantab, SmithKline Beecham, Merck and MedImmune. Siegfried says great hope is offered to millions of tuberculosis sufferers by PathoGenesis Corp.'s rifalazil, a TB drug now in Phase II clinical trials that the company says may eradicate infection in two weeks, as opposed to six months for existing tuberculosis drugs. ``I think, my lord, what that could mean in terms of TB as a threat to world health,'' he said. ``Because part of the problem (is that) the treatment of tuberculosis is such a long time of treatment that you really have to have a dedicated patient population.'' Tuberculosis evolves drug-resistant forms when patients do not take their full course of medicine, as do other bugs. Some of the most common bacteria, such as streptococci and staphylococci, have mutated strains that resist even the most advanced antibiotics.

This scares doctors, not least because it takes years to develop new drugs. On PhRMA's list is Eli Lilly's LY33328, which is designed to fight such superbugs. Lilly says it is similar to vancomycin, the current last line of defense, but seems to kill bacteria better. The company does not quite understand how but has the drug in Phase II clinical trials. Drugs meant to fight the HIV virus that causes AIDS are not on the list, but several have been found to fight other viruses as well. These include Glaxo-Wellcome's Epivir, which is up for FDA approval for use against hepatitis B. But Siegfried warned that people should not rely solely on drugs. ``While it's wonderful that we have all these products coming along, unless we have education of the public and a change in our behavior, to simply bring more antibiotics on the market means more drug resistance,'' he said. ``These are gifts to humanity and they need to be treated with respect. If we abuse them, as we have in the past, it will not move us further ahead.'' Scientists say drug-resistant bugs evolved because people over-use antibiotics, use them inappropriately, and fail to use them correctly. ``The answer to infectious disease is not antibiotics and antivirals. It is healthy living,'' Siegfried said.