Here’s the scenario: Scientist A says, “We have to do something about these superbugs before they kill us all!” Scientist B responds, looking up from a Spiderman comic, “Too bad we can’t just design some super-spiders to fight them with.” And that’s where it all started. Australian researcher Sónia Troeira Henriques and her team published a study wherein they redesigned a peptide from a Brazilian spider and found that their work increased the molecule’s antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Innovators have been looking for alternatives to the existing field of antibiotics, which are becoming dangerously ineffective at combating increasingly resistant bacteria. Earlier this year, the WHO released their list of “priority pathogens” that we really need to get some stuff in the pipeline for.
Slight paraphrase, but the point holds. This week, WHO released its rapidly (tragically) expanding list of “super-bugs”—drug-resistant bacteria that have stopped responding to antibiotics. For some context, these strains resulted in more than 50,000 fatalities last year. The older and infirmed are usually at greatest risk, but five-alarm bells are sounding from new findings that pediatric infection has increased sevenfold within the decade. With our last lines of antibiotic defense now losing efficacy, the fix comes down to R&D. However, new antibiotic discoveries are limited after 70 years of research, and…pharma doesn’t get huge ROIs from antibiotic research. But Pharma, hear us at InsightCity—if anyone is saving the day, and all of humanity—it will be you.
The FDA’s annual summary on “antimicrobials sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals” reported a 1 percent rise in sales from 2014 to 2015. Now, if your company produces those antimicrobials, you might be miffed at such a small rise. On the other hand, if you don’t work for one of those companies, that rise is great because… Oh wait, never mind, it sucks more for you. Why? Well, the FDA puts this report out as part of their initiative for food producers to stop using so many antimicrobials, which is important because the CDC attributes 1 in 5 antibiotic resistant infections to germs from food and animals. So until we see a decrease in those sales, continue with your superbug preparations.
With flu season in full swing and US wildfires throwing ash and smoke everywhere, you would be forgiven for thinking the air around you has reached capacity for ways to make you sick. You would be wrong, though. Swedish researchers conducted a study on various environments to compare the presence of antibiotic resistant genes in each. They found the most diverse and abundant amounts in environments with industrial antibiotic pollution (no surprise there) as well as in the good old-fashioned type of air pollution present in Beijing. They even found genes in those environments that encode resistance to carbapenems, considered the last line of antibiotic defense. The scientists are planning more research into how transmission works through air pollution, because this stuff is scary.
Finally, some good news in the fight against antibiotic resistance… even if it’s a bit gross. A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that the milk of the Tasmanian devil is effective in killing antibiotic-resistant MRSA and VRE bacteria. Young devils spend their first few months with incomplete immune systems hanging out in mama’s pouch. You may recognize an animal’s pouch as being slightly more pathogen-infested than your typical cleanroom environment. But it seems that peptides responsible for killing those bacteria are expressed in both the mother’s milk and pouch lining, protecting the joey. So yeah, new biologic sources are great and all, but we’re still a bit off-put by this. Maybe Taz can illustrate our feelings about it best.