Welcome to a world where the drugs don't work - it's here, today.
'A new wave of "super superbugs" with a mutation called NDM 1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.''After Alexander Fleming's 1928 discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, we quickly came to assume we had the chemicals to beat bacteria. Sure, bugs evolve to develop resistance. But for decades scientists have managed to develop new medicines to stay at least one step ahead of an ever-mutating enemy. Now, though, we may be running out of road.'
'What makes the NDM 1 enzyme so dangerous is not only its ability to outflank carbapenems, the most powerful class of antibiotic drugs, but also the company it keeps -- in tough bacteria already resistant to many other antibiotics. Despite being identified only three years ago, it has already been detected in a wide variety of bugs, including many familiar pathogens such as Escherichia coli, or E. coli. In contrast to so-called Gram-positive bacteria, like MRSA, these microscopic enemies are Gram-negative, meaning they have tougher outer membranes which block out many antibiotics, and an unnerving ability to pump out others, making them much harder to take on and beat.'
'Even more alarmingly, NDM 1 is no lone threat -- it comes as part of a family. Similar enzymes in the same class, known as carbapenemases, have been detected worldwide. Just this month, the Eurosurveillance journal of the European Center for Diseases Prevention and Control reported that four separate cases of a related strain had been found in Switzerland between May 2009 and November 2010. Three had come from Italy, one from Greece.
That suggests that NDM 1 and its kin are not, in fact, the ultimate "super superbugs" but rather just the tip of the iceberg. The WHO's Mario Raviglione, who is fronting its antimicrobial campaign, is particularly worried about "superbug" forms of tuberculosis -- a disease that earned the nickname of "white plague" during Victorian times in Britain because sufferers' skin tone turned so pale.'
'Perhaps most worryingly, the world's top drug companies, faced with decreasing returns and ever more expensive and difficult science, have not only slowed their efforts to develop new antibiotics but have been quitting the field in droves.
Today, only two large companies - GlaxoSmithKline Plc and AstraZeneca Plc -- still have strong and active antibiotic research and development programmes, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Back in 1990, there were nearly 20.'