Rather than examining the artefacts hidden away among Michigan’s estimated 1,500 shipwrecks, Murphy is searching for new antibiotics, an ongoing treasure hunt which has seen him dive to depths of up to 130 feet in some of the most extreme locations on the planet.
“They’re happy to sell existing antibiotics, but they’re not interested in researching and developing new ones.” New antibiotics are generated naturally over time by bacteria, as weapons in their ongoing chemical warfare against other microbes. The conclusion in Uppsala was simple: The world needs to start developing new antibiotics, and fast.
“The phyla is the fundamental unit of life. Seventeen of them exist on land, but 34 exist in water. So it makes more sense to look for antibiotics in the oceans, rivers and lakes, as your chances of finding new chemicals are double.”
“Of those, three to four have serious potential as far as we know, including anthracimycin. But we have no way to develop them. There are no companies in the United States that care. They’re happy to sell existing antibiotics, but they’re not interested in researching and developing new ones.”
Fenical’s frustrations stem from the fact that developing new antibiotics is in some ways far easier than developing treatments for other diseases such as cancer.