Antibacterial Resistance: We Are Already at War

I just finished reading a most interesting C&EN (Chemical and Engineering News) report about antibacterial resistance. As somebody that has worked in the field and that has a personal interest in the subject, I believe that everyone should be made aware of the terrible threat that antibiotic resistance poses to our society.

Based on the C&EN report, I take the opportunity to speak about the subject again in the hope to help spreading the word.

As I recently mentioned also on the Huffington post: antibiotics are drugs commonly prescribed to treat bacterial infections. However, bacteria are able to evolve to counteract the antibiotic action, hence becoming resistant and making the drug inactive. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but the misuse that our society makes of antibiotics has increased the rate at which resistance arises.

As the article reports, antibiotic resistance causes around 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S. (the same goes for Europe).

Currently, the most urgent threat is represented by Clostridium difficile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The situation is becoming also particularly serious for the following bacteria: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species. This list goes under the name of “ESKAPE”.

Even though the danger is imminent, solutions are far to be found. The reasons behind this are several:

  • Pharma companies are not interested in the development of new antibiotics because the small revenue does not justify the cost. At most, presently big firms tend to partner-up (or acquire) smaller firms that ventured in the field of antibiotic development.
  • The science behind the development of resistance is not unique, hence not easily studied. There is not a rational way to design a new antibiotic drug.
  • Regulatory pathways for the development of the drugs are uncertain and often not efficient.

If we want to have a chance to win the war against antibacterial resistance we will have to tackle each of these points. In particular, as the author of the CE&N article clearly summarizes, what is needed are: further policy changes, marketplace incentives, and a better understanding of how to thwart drug-resistant pathogens.

As a personal recommendation, I would urge everyone to get informed on the subject by consulting the World Health Organisation (WHO) page and other available resources, such as the article that inspired this blog post.

References:

http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i35/Antibiotics-bugs-always-win.html

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About Daniela Quaglia

Dr. Daniela Quaglia, PhD, MSc. Research scientist and freelance scientific writer/communicator. I am currently working at Université de Montréal (Québec, Canada). I am a very versatile person as I started off as a chemist during my undergraduate studies in Italy, but I then expanded my skills and knowledge towards biocatalysis and synthetic biology (which are also my present fields). During my career, I travelled a lot and this allowed me to gather a broad experience in both teaching and research. After carrying out my PhD. in Ireland (University College Dublin), I moved to the UK where I worked both in academia (University of Manchester) and industry (London). I like to define myself as a scientist with a passion for art, in particular for acting and writing. I am increasingly interested in science communication and in the divulgation of science to a non-specialised audience. I occasionally also write for the Huffington Post, Synbiobeta and the Biochemical society.

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