Capitalism could save us from the coming superbug epidemic

Will capitalism be enough to save us from the next superbug epidemic?The country that elected a man who claimed he could heal the planet by stopping the rise of the oceans may not have the wherewithal to heal itself from the rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Last year, a superbug called Klebsiella pneumoniae ran amok through the National Institute of Health’s ClinicalCenter following the 48-hour stay of an infected lung cancer patient. NIH staff detected the bacteria and believed the infection contained, but several weeks later the bacteria suddenly reappeared in several patients. DNA testing confirmed the original lung cancer patient as the source. It took six months, and eleven deaths, before the NIH got control of the situation. The CDC’s Alexander Kallen said it may take “a decade before we have new antibiotics that might be able to help.”

The Washington Post followed up on Kallen’s comment with an article noting the dearth of new frontline antibiotics to combat potential epidemics. From 1945 to 1968, drug companies developed thirteen new categories of antibiotics. Since then? Drug companies have developed two. After out-innovating every other nation on earth for the past two hundred years, the United States may be out-innovated by microscopic bacteria.

The article picks an intriguing culprit in this medical collapse, claiming that it’s “a case of evolution outrunning capitalism.”

In the case of vaccines and antibiotics, the real question is: what capitalism?  Continue reading