Ada Yonath: “We are racing toward a post antibiotic era”

This afternoon at ESOF2020, Nobel Laureate and crystallographer Ada Yonath gave a keynote speech on the importance of basic research for major medical discoveries that could transform human health.

Yonath won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009 for her work on the nature of ribosomes. Ribosomes are like factories in living cells that produce proteins by decoding genetic information. Her research on these tiny factories led to a whole new class of antibiotics, which comprise over 40% of those currently available, and “paralyse” these factories, effectively shutting them down.

She emphasized the importance of support for scientific research seeking out new antibiotics, because of the threat of antibiotic resistance. Pathogens are able to adapt quickly to antibiotics in circulation, making research that hunts for new antibiotics essential to hold off diseases caused by infectious parasites and bacteria. But as it stands, there is not enough.

“Resistance to antibiotics is one of the most severe problems in modern medicine,” she said.

“We are racing toward a post antibiotic era, as it’s called by the WHO,” Yonath added. “It’s consequential that the World Bank estimated that up to 3.8% of the global economy will be lost just because of antibiotic resistance. It’s a huge loss.”

Only a few new antibiotics are in development, she said. Most large drug companies have stopped endeavors to create new antibiotics.

“If companies don’t do it, and we need it, can we really combat resistance to antibiotics in full?” she said. “It’s unlikely because bacteria want to live and because bacteria are ‘cleverer’ than us, at least in terms of survival.”

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