Ashkin Advises: Decline in Antibiotic Research Means More Emphasis on Effective Cleaning

It’s possible many in the professional cleaning industry are unaware of a major redirection in the pharmaceutical industry: whereas pharmaceutical companies spent billions of dollars and put decades of research into the development of new antibiotics after World War II, one by one the major firms are backing away this expensive and time consuming research. *

With all the discussion of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hospital-acquired illnesses, and other infectious diseases cleaning professionals have become all too familiar with, this may come as a surprise.

However, pharmaceutical companies are taking these steps for several reasons:

• The high costs of and high chance of failure in antibiotic research and development
• The length of time it takes to develop new drugs—usually a decade or longer
• The slow approval process once a new antibiotic has been developed
• Low return on the investment

“The market for a new antibiotic is surprisingly very small, the rewards are not there, and so the [investment] capital is not flowing,” says Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson.

“In cancer, people pay $30,000 [to] $80,000 (per patient) for a drug, but for an antibiotic it is likely to be only a few hundred dollars.”

According to Stephen Ashkin, long known as the “father of Green Cleaning,” this is happening at a time when the so-called superbugs, which are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, are spreading. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are approximately 80,000 infections and 11,285 deaths each year from MRSA alone.

“This redirection means more emphasis will be placed on preventing illness, and that’s where effective and environmentally responsible cleaning comes in,” says Ashkin.

“In other words, our industry is being called upon to step in and help stop the spread of disease at a time when the pharmaceuticals are stepping out. Increased investment in training, equipment, and health-protecting cleaning methods is already helping us accomplish this.”
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*Major U.S. pharmaceutical companies that have walked away from antibiotic research (as of this writing) include Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Roche, and Bristol-Myers Squibb; basic research continues at GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Merck & Co.