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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2000

Panel discussion – 12 November 2000

The latter half of the last century saw significant reductions in morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases following the discovery of antibiotics and the overall improvement of living conditions in industrialised nations. However, the treatment of infectious diseases is presently in a state of crisis as a result of (1) the development of increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance in all type of pathogenic microbes; (2) the emergence and reemergence of various infectious agents of humans which were thought to be controlled (such as tuberculosis) or those that have only recently been identified as pathogens (such as Lyme disease or HIV/AIDS). Many factors have contributed to this state of affairs and major health organisations such as WHO and the FDA (US) have begun to institute worldwide action to attempt to ameliorate the situation. One requirement is the continuing supply of therapeutic agents that can be employed in the (directed) treatment of infection. The discovery of novel antibiotics has not kept up with the development of resistance and as a result, the available compounds have become less and less effective. This is not surprising, since antibiotic resistance in microbes is inevitable; in addition, the situation is compounded by the fact that promiscuous gene transfer is a bacterial life style. Resistance cannot be treated, it can only be delayed. Where will new therapies come from?