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Superbugs gaining ground as new antibiotic development drops

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
More superbugs, but fewer antibiotics a major concern.

Infectious disease experts are sounding the alarm for the second time in 2 years about drug resistant bacteria that pose an increasing threat to human health. Despite the fact that superbugs are emerging at a rapid pace, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved just one antibiotic since the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) launched an initiative for making antibiotic resistance a focus in 2010.

Two years ago, the IDSA published a statement calling for a "global commitment" to develop new antibiotics. The proposed goal was to develop 10 new antibiotics to combat drug resistance by the year 2020.

But now the IDSA says there are only 7 potential drugs in development to combat the likes of Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and other gram negative bacteria that can potentially kill even healthy individuals.

The last antibiotic approved by the FDA was two and half years ago.

In their report published today, the IDSA says antibiotic resistance is developing rapidly. There are 7 antimicrobial drugs that are in development that may not even work.

In 2010, the group asked that “global political, scientific, industry, economic, intellectual property, policy, medical and philanthropic leaders to develop” incentives to stimulate antimicrobial research and development to help fight multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacilli (GNB) that includes the “nightmare bacteria” CRE.

The group pointed out that the drug industry basically stopped developing new antibiotics over the past two decades, also explaining the effort to do so should be “constant”.

Henry Chambers, MD, chair of IDSA's Antimicrobial Resistance Committee (ARC) said in a press release, though there has been progress developing new antibiotics, it isn’t enough. He says efforts must be accelerated.

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Reaching the goal of 10 new drugs to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria now seems “insurmountable”, Chamber says. New drugs are not being developed fast enough to keep up the pace with bacteria that are constantly mutating to avoid destruction.

Helen W. Boucher, MD, lead author of the policy paper and a member of IDSA's Board of Directors and ARC suggests we are teetering on the edge of returning to the “dark days” when surgery, chemotherapy and the care of premature infants was unsafe.

She says everyone is at risk from antibiotic resistance. Suggestions to tackle the problem of so-called superbugs from the group include:

  • Antibiotic stewardship that includes healthcare facilities, patients and clinicians to ensure antimicrobial drugs are appropriately used.
  • Economic incentives to spur research efforts
  • Clarification from the FDA of what is needed to get new antibiotics approved
  • More funding for research
  • Increased efforts toward preventing infection
  • Increased public health surveillance of multi-drug resistance and antibiotic use

The IDSA notes pharmaceutical companies invest in research and development of drugs for cholesterol and cancer that bring profits because they are taken for long periods of time, unlike antibiotics.

Currently, just 4 pharmaceutical companies are involved in antibiotic research and development during a time when antibiotic resistance is at its highest. One of the companies Astra Zeneca has announced they plan to reduce future investments in antibiotics.

Last month UK researchers also published similar concerns about antibiotic resistance; highlighting 17 strategies to address what they described as a "catastrophic threat".

In November 2011, the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC) launched the Antibiotic Action Campaign in response to the paper: “Report of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy Initiative - The Urgent Need: regenerating antibacterial drug discovery development.”

The authors say lack of antibiotics for drug resistance could have ‘dire consequences’ for patient care, public health and national security.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons