superbugs antibiotics, superbug e coli, superbug antibiotics

New Drugs Needed to Fight E. Coli Superbug

September 15, 2008 05:58 AM
by Denis Cummings
Britain’s Health Protection Agency says that the pharmaceutical industry must develop new antibiotics to combat hospital superbugs, particularly gram-negative bacteria.

E. Coli Infections Triple

Hospitals in Britain have reported that gram-negative bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics currently available. Cases of drug-resistant Escherichia coli, the “big beast” of gram-negative bacteria, tripled between 2000 and 2006, and there is a lack of new antibiotics reaching the market.

“Hospitals are having to use what were second-line antibiotics first,” said Dr. David Livermore, laboratory director at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections. “We are not actually running out of antibiotics, however we are now having to use our last-defence antibiotics first in some hospital infections.”

Livermore said that drug companies have been successful in developing antibiotics to combat MRSA (methicillin resistant stapyloccocus aureus), which devastated hospitals and reached the broader community last year. MRSA cases have dropped, but cases of gram-negative bacteria are rising and drug companies are slow to produce new antibiotics because they are not profitable.
Several major companies have pulled out of antibiotic development,” he said. “They have not been seen as a particularly profitable area. If you develop a new heart drug, the patient is on it for a matter of years and resistance doesn't develop. With antibiotics on the other hand, the patient is on it for one or two years and resistance may develop."

The problem is made worse by overuse of antibiotics, which increases the resistance of superbugs. The HPA warned patients and doctors against using antibiotics for common colds and coughs, while England’s Chief Medical Officer told doctors to stop prescribing antibiotics for viruses.

Background: The E. coli superbug

British doctors first noticed a rise in E. coli infections last fall with the development the drug-resistant strain Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL). E. coli cases previously had been confined to the elderly, but many young healthy people were developing ESBL.

Experts blamed imported meat from animals that may have been fed antibiotics used to treat serious E. coli cases. “We restrict the use of antibiotics in most people because we know that when we use any antibiotic, resistance develops,” Professor Peter Collignon, advisor to the World Health Organization. “I find it perverse that we are using these types of drugs in food animals.”

In February, medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases published a study detailing the ESBL. “It is possible that, in the near future, clinicians will be regularly confronted with the hospital types of bacteria causing infections in patients in the community, a scenario very similar to that of community-acquired MRSA,” it said.

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