Agri-Health / AMR / Article / Disease Control / Human Health / Policy

The rise of ‘superbugs’ presents a nightmare scenario—the beginning of the end of modern medicine


Scanning electromicrograph if the interaction of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA) bacteria (coloured blue) with a human white cell. The bacteria shown is strain MRSA252, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections in the US and UK (image credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID] of the US National Institutes of Health [NIH]). ‘Superbug’ MRSA is found in US wastewater treatment plants. MRSA is well-known for causing difficult-to-treat and potentially fatal bacterial infections in hospital patients, but since the late 1990s it has also been infecting otherwise healthy people in community settings. MRSA infections acquired outside of hospital settings are on the rise and can be just as severe as hospital-acquired MRSA.

Lethal bacteria are showing resistance to more and more antibiotics, and financial and legal hurdles are making it harder than ever for science to create effective new drugs. . . .

The arsenal of antibiotics is nearly empty.

And significant financial and legal hurdles are getting in the way of the already challenging process of discovering effective new ones.

‘It’s been 30 years since the discovery of a new class of antibiotic that has hit the market. Each class is defined by its chemical structure, which determines how it kills bacteria. The longer an antibiotic is in use, the more time bacteria have to develop resistance to it. Penicillin and its ilk date back to World War Two, and resistance to this group is now widespread, as it is becoming for other extant classes.

‘Thirty-seven antibiotics are currently undergoing clinical trials, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which keeps track of the U.S. pipeline. Most, however, are based on existing drugs. While these derivatives are cheaper and easier to develop than new classes of drugs, bacteria have a head start in developing resistance to them.

‘“We are losing the standoff with pathogens … Without antibiotics, essentially you do not have modern medicine.”
Kim Lewis, biochemist, Northeastern University. . . .

“Without antibiotics, essentially you do not have modern medicine.”. . .

‘To regain the advantage, medical science needs to overcome a daunting set of hurdles.

‘Bringing a new drug to market can cost upward of a billion dollars. The return on investment is much lower for antibiotics than it is for drugs that patients take for years to treat chronic conditions like high cholesterol or diabetes. Antibiotics are typically prescribed for short periods, usually seven to 14 days.

‘More recently, court rulings have made it difficult to patent the natural compounds from which most antibiotics are derived. And ironically, efforts to slow the development of resistance by curbing prescriptions have further damped the commercial allure of antibiotics.

Small wonder that Big Pharma has fled the business. . . .

‘Resistance can develop fast, and is made worse through over-prescribing and misuse of drugs. To preserve existing antibiotics, public health officials have urged hospitals and doctors to implement “stewardship” programs to reduce unnecessary prescriptions and hold critical drugs in reserve for when others fail. . . .’

Read the whole article at Reuters: The uncounted: The deadly epidemic America is ignoring, 15 Dec 2016.

Read an opinion piece published this week, originally by Devex and later reposted on the ILRI News blog, written by Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, on links between livestock production and the rise of drug resistance in pathogenic microbes of medical importance.

Read previous articles on the ILRI News blog about livestock research being conducted to help stem the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

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