Latest Issue

A bug’s life

The pharmaceutical arms race with microbes is unwinnable. We have to learn that successful diseases need us to survive

By Jerome Burne   July 2001

imagine what life is like for a virus or bacteria infecting the human body. You have a series of problems. You must get in, evade the sentinels of the immune system, make as many copies of yourself as possible and then, most importantly, get passed on to a new host. Failure at any stage will mean a decline in the numbers of your particular gene combination in the gene pool. Success means that your numbers will grow.

It is not a difficult exercise, yet thinking about microbes in this way has the potential to transform our ideas about diseases and…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect