We're still using the 'Model T' of antibiotics -- here's why that's a problem

If you go to the doctor with an infection, you might get sent home with the same drug you were prescribed decades ago.

And that could become a problem as the bacteria that invades our bodies start to become resistant to that antibiotic. An estimated 23,000 Americans died in 2013 from bacterial infections that didn’t respond to antibiotics, and bacteria have even begun developing resistance against antibiotics that are used as last resorts.

At a time where concern over antibiotic resistance is at an all-time high, Cempra CEO Prabhavathi Fernandes says we should stop using what she calls the “Model Ts” of antibiotics, drugs that have been around for decades.

Fernandes likened our reliance on these drugs to riding around in a Model T (the first affordable automobile) when we could be driving a modern sports car.

“The ones in the 50s were great, at that time, but they didn’t have modern science,” Fernandes, a microbiologist, told Business Insider. “You should use the most optimised drug to date.”

Cempra is working on a drug called solithromycin, a member of the macrolide class, which the company is developing as a pill, IV fluid, and pediatric solution. Drugs in the macrolide class have been around since the 1950s to treat conditions such as pneumonia.

The difference with solithromycin, as she explained it, is that it’s “optimised” so that it can latch onto bacteria in three places, rather than one. That way, even if the bacteria learns how to kick off the antibiotic at one site, it’s still latched on at another two, giving the antibiotic a better shot of destroying the bacteria and making it harder for bacteria to learn how to outmaneuver the antibiotic.

And some of the other drugs we use to treat pneumonia today, even if they are newer, serious side effects, outlined by the FDA in July 2016. In comparison, The side effects for solithromycin, seem to be less severe, with some reporting headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and dizziness.

Which, isn’t to say that the drug won’t ever get resistant.

“I have a lot of respect for bacteria,” Fernandes said. “They are going to get resistant they will evolve, and they will get resistant. This is not a battle one can win, it’s a continuous fight.”

Solithromycin is currently under review by the FDA. It will go before an advisory committee panel on November 4, which will recommend that the FDA either to approve or deny the drug, and the company should have a decision around December 27.

NOW WATCH: Stephen Hawking warned us about contacting aliens, but this astronomer says it’s ‘too late’

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.