Waging war on infectious diseases

While I am at the Gordon Conference on Tuberculosis (TB) Drug Discovery and Development this week I cannot live Tweet due to their policy. I do however have some thoughts based on my observations.

This is not a war fought by soldiers armed with guns and artillery against an enemy similarly armed, this is a long war in which each side has evolved its weapons. The enemy is infectious diseases, they mutate, they morph, they resist our weapon of choice the drug. Fortunately through technology advances our drugs also change, we identify new chemistry, we find new targets and we combine our weapons to make them lethal.

These soldiers do not get recognition, their battlefield is the laboratory and their enemy is contained within plastic plates or mice infected with the disease. This practice battleground prepares them for the real battle in countries around the globe, the billions affected and the millions of casualties every year.

What scars do our soldiers show, the years of research against a microscopic foe. Their brains the real arsenal, combine and collaborate. But do they suffer too? We take for granted our scientists and the mental anguish they face. Take a disease like TB which has existed for millennia, humans have battled for just as long. Only in the past 70 years have we fought back, and now we are at status quo, our drugs are losing their bite, our funding is diminishing in the west. Are we losing our way? Where are our leaders and what are our new heavy artillery to put in the front line?

As I speak to young scientists focused on the disease its pretty clear they plan to devote their whole career to this disease, their goal is to find a cure. The pipeline looks dire whichever one you pick (1, 2), we therefore have to look in new places for ideas. I think we have to invest in the new generation of scientists as we look to the future. This war will not be won by refusing to fund R&D, it will not be won by continuing to do the same old approaches. I look forward to openly sharing my ideas this week.


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