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How is Pharma Tackling Antibiotic Resistance? Public Health Watch Report

We are entering the “antibiotic apocalypse.”

At least that’s the phrase used by England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, DBE, FMedSci, FRS, to describe the current situation regarding the growing problem of resistance. Dr. Davies made the comment in response to findings, initially presented at the American Society of Microbiology’s annual meeting and published in February in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (AAC), that bacteria containing the gene MCR-1 confers resistance to the antibiotic colistin.

As the authors of the AAC paper note, colistin is generally considered an “antibiotic of last resort,” and the discovery of the resistance conferred by the MCR-1 gene could mean that routine surgical procedures and hospitalizations would suddenly become fraught with peril due to the increased risk for resistant infections. According to the report “Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations,” some 700,000 people worldwide die each year from infections that no longer respond to antibiotics; that number, the report suggests, could rise to 10 million by 2050.

Of course, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also sounded the alarm on this issue.

A commentary published on October 16, 2017, in Forbes laments that, “Traditional drug development methods take time and are insufficiently profitable to entice pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics—which is why no pharmaceutical company has developed and marketed a new antibiotic in the last 30 years.”

But while the first part of that assertion may be true, the last part is arguably misleading. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several novel antibiotics in recent years, and there are multiple compounds currently in the pipeline. Still, these new innovations may not be enough to stem the tide of resistance. Hence, as reported by The Guardian on October 20, 2017, several research teams are actively engaged in projects seeking to reformulate and repurpose existing antibiotics. For example, a team at the Scripps Institute has developed a drug they call vancomycin 3.0, which they say is 25,000 times more potent than the original.
The only problem: Finding an affordable way to mass-produce the drug.

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