Why the development of new antibiotics isn’t the answer

Clearly alternatives to antibiotics are needed — and fast. It’s been estimated that the pharmaceutical industry will need upward of $37 billion over the next decade to replace antibiotics that no longer work. However, drug companies have a little financial incentive to innovate new antibiotics, so unless taxpayers end up footing the bill, it’s unlikely that such products will enter the market anytime soon.

There are 43 antibiotics in clinical development, but none of them show much promise for solving rapidly rising AMR, as innovation is stagnant — most “new” antibiotics brought to the market are variations of drug classes that have been around since the 1980s. WHO’s annual Antibacterial Pipeline Report also found that antibiotics currently in development are insufficient to tackle AMR:

“The 2020 report reveals a near static pipeline with only a few antibiotics being approved by regulatory agencies in recent years. Most of these agents in development offer limited clinical benefit over existing treatments, with 82% of the recently approved antibiotics being derivatives of existing antibiotic classes with well-established drug resistance. Therefore, the rapid emergence of drug resistance to these new agents is expected.”

Pesticides make antibiotic resistance worse

The overuse of antimicrobials during the COVID-19 pandemic is a driving factor making AMR worse, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Widely used herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) and dicamba (Kamba) also play a role.

Research from the University of Canterbury researchers revealed that agrichemicals and antibiotics in combination increase the evolution of antibiotic resistance, such that bacteria may develop antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when they’re exposed to certain herbicides in the environment.

Herbicides promote antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics. This includes Roundup (the actual formulation of Roundup, not just its active ingredient glyphosate in isolation), which was shown to increase the antibiotic-resistant prowess of E. coli and salmonella, along with dicamba and 2,4-D. Rodale News reported:

“The way Roundup causes this effect is likely by causing the bacteria to turn on a set of genes that are normally off, [study author] Heinemann says. ‘These genes are for ‘pumps’ or ‘porins,’ proteins that pump out toxic compounds or reduce the rate at which they get inside of the bacteria …’

“Once these genes are turned on by the herbicide, then the bacteria can also resist antibiotics. If bacteria were to encounter only the antibiotic, they would instead have been killed.

“In a sense, the herbicide is ‘immunizing’ the bacteria to the antibiotic … This change occurs at levels commonly used on farm field crops, lawns, gardens, and parks.”

In the U.S., industrial agriculture even uses the antibiotics oxytetracycline and streptomycin as pesticides on agricultural plants, a practice that’s banned in the EU and Brazil due to rising concerns over antibiotic resistance. But in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency approved the “maximum level” of oxytetracycline for use in citrus fruits in December 2018 — just days after approving residues of the drug on fruit.

Agricultural antibiotics cannot be ignored

Industrially raised farm animals living on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have emerged as another major reservoir of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Due to poor farming practices, including the use of low doses of antibiotics in animal feed for purposes of growth promotion, antibiotic resistance in farm animals is on the rise, threatening human and animal health along with food production sustainability.

Worldwide, most antibiotics are used not for human illness or companion pets but for livestock. Overall, 73% of the antibiotics sold globally are used in farm animals raised for food, typically on CAFOs. Researchers explained the glaring role of CAFOs in antibiotic resistance in Environmental Health Perspectives:

“This prolonged use of antibiotics, especially at low levels, presents a risk of not killing the bacteria while promoting their resistance by selecting for resistant populations.

“The resistance genes can pass readily from one kind of bacteria to another. Thus, workers in the animal units may become colonized with resistant organisms and can pass them on to co-workers and family members, or friends.

“Consumers of meat may also become colonized through mishandling of raw meat or through insufficient cooking. Ultimately, these genes may pass into pathogens, and diseases that were formerly treatable will be capable of causing severe illness or death.”

In addition, most antibiotics ingested by animals are not metabolized but, rather, excreted. This waste is then applied to soil as a fertilizer, which may then be sprayed with herbicide. The antibiotic-resistant microbes can also be carried elsewhere by houseflies.

Pandemic ‘stretched the limits’ of optimal antibiotics usage

Increased AMR is yet another fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will combine with the already perilous AMR pandemic in progress, resulting in further deaths and environmental destruction. Writing in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, researchers stated, “the ongoing pandemic is stretching the limits of optimal antibiotic stewardship” and called for an end to unnecessary use of antimicrobial agents:

“Moreover, unnecessary use of antimicrobial agents would be associated with a significant economic burden on healthcare systems, which could be directly caused by the drug itself and indirectly caused by healthcare costs for the management of drug-related adverse events … continuing this intervention to curb inappropriate antibiotic usage and surveying the reasons for guideline non-adherence should be conducted within hospitals.”

Beyond this, choosing organic foods, including grass-fed meats and dairy products, can help you avoid exposure to antibiotic residues in the food supply, while also supporting food growers who are not contributing to AMR. Unfortunately, as the world continues to put all of its attention on COVID-19, the catastrophe of AMR is getting worse instead of better.

Originally published by Mercola.