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There's Hope for Slowing Antibiotic Resistance

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One company -- Abbott Laboratories -- has voluntarily withdrawn a fluoroquinolone antibiotic for use in poultry, Mellon says. "We're hoping that Bayer [producer of Baytril, the other fluoroquinolone used in poultry] will do the same," she says.

Such actions have significant implications for this whole serious problem, Mellon tells WebMD. "It says that the FDA, after a 20-year hiatus, is back in action in animal antibiotics," she says. "We're delighted. Our hope, of course, is that this is the beginning of their efforts -- not the only cancellation that the agency undertakes."

The FDA also has proposed that labels on antibiotics contain information about the emergence of drug-resistant bacterial strains -- as a reminder to physicians to use them only when a bacterial infection is either "proven or strongly suspected."

Also, new antibiotics are being developed -- and old antibiotics are being redesigned.

Two new antibiotics -- called telithromycin and Zyvox -- have been approved by the FDA in recent months and are targeted at killing some drug-resistant supergerms as well as standard infections like pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, sinus infections, and strep throat.

Zyvox also has been FDA approved for the treatment of "superinfections" and should be "saved only for situations when there is no other choice," according to the FDA. An antibiotic called Synercid (approved in 1999) and others remain the first line of defense, according to the FDA.

And microarray, or "gene chip" technology, looks promising in allowing researchers to develop antibiotics that put different, very selective pressures on the bacteria as they attempt to dodge antibiotic bullets.

Yet, another approach is to take an old drug and redesign it, Stuart B. Levy, MD, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University School of Medicine, tells WebMD. His company, called Paratek Pharmaceuticals in Boston, currently is involved in revamping one of the early antibiotics, tetracycline.

"Gene technology does give us a new approach to new antibiotics," Levy says. "But I do think there's merit in taking an old drug like tetracycline and restructuring it ... to redesign an antibiotic so it's not subject to resistance."

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