The AncientBiotics Project

Just because recently I was so much into antibiotics on this page, here is a fascinating story about a research team from Nottingham which rebrewed a thousand-year-old recipe from medieval sources and found the substance to be highly effective against MRSA, a bacterium which is largely resistant to common antibiotic treatments. Usually I’m not a big fan of interdisciplinary research projects, as they are too often only a straw man, but these results are, as the researchers themselves put it, “absolutely astonishing”.

The fact that all ingredients alone, such as onion, garlic, and alcohol, show only a mild impact on bacteria growth but develop their true potential in the exact combination discovered in the 10th century puts into perspective theories (which were recently discussed elsewhere) that deny the medieval population the ability to make use of experimentation and the scientific method. In general, a lack of breakthrough inventions in science did not seem to be the problem throughout human history. It’s just hard to understand why such an invaluable knowledge like the invention of effective antibiotic treatments did not have a larger impact and spread to a wider geographical area. This channel of knowledge spillovers, the “standing on shoulders of giants” part of science, seems to have only opened up in modern times.

I can only recommend you to watch this video…

The Prize for New Antibiotics

I wrote about antibiotics before. So far, this was a success story. Since the 1940s, the price for antibiotic drugs fell extremely, transforming a once unaffordable drug into an “everyday product”. Unfortunately, however, there is more and more evidence that we might fall behind in the evolutionary battle against drug-resistant bacteria. Recently, I read an article in the NYT on the topic. The problem is essentially that developing new antibiotic drugs is not profitable anymore. Continue reading The Prize for New Antibiotics

Economic History: Antibiotics

Some time ago I wrote about a paper of mine (Hünermund et al., 2015) in which my coauthors and me develop a model to explain the occurrence of industry shakeouts. Shakeouts are a phenomenon which we encounter frequently in new industries. At one point in time, a large number of relatively small firms, previously operating in a market, becomes unsustainable. Within a short period of time a lot of firms exit and, eventually, the industry becomes dominated by a few large players. Our model explains this frequently observed pattern by technological factors that change over the lifespan of an industry. Cost advantages — because of more efficient production technologies — allow a few firm to take over and squeeze all others out of the market. Continue reading Economic History: Antibiotics