I read a post today on Yahoo News entitled “Warning on New Superbugs from S. Asia.” While I initially thought that this article may contain some important news on the real and growing of multiple drug resistant bacterial pathogens, I sadly learned that it was nothing more than an sensationalistic attempt to promote the discovery of a new metallo-beta-lactamase gene bla(NDM-1) in an Indian isolate of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a Gram negative bacterium. The work was performed by a group at Cardiff University in Wales and published almost a year ago in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
There is no question that morbidity and mortality from Gram negative infections is rising and will certainly continue to increase in the future. This is because most of the work in antibacterial drug discovery in the last decade was focused on Gram positive bacteria including methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE). Although new antibiotics have reached the market for these organisms, they are used judiciously, and mainly as a last resort, because of fears of emerging resistance to them among Gram positive clinical isolates. Unfortunately, developing new antibiotics against Gram negative pathogens as compared with Gram positive bacteria is much more difficult. To that end, no antibiotics of note have been discovered in recent years to treat multiple drug resistant strains of Gram negative bacteria.Â
While identification of the bla (NDM-1) gene may be scientifically and biologically interesting, it will likely have little effect on the clinical treatment of Gram negative infections. This is because many Gram negative isolates are already resistant to most beta-lactam antibiotics and consequently these antibiotics are used only sparingly to treat many Gram negative infections.Â Regardless of the implications of the discovery of the NDM-1, what I find most troubling about the article is its title.Â It leads uninformed persons to believe that the world is in grave danger and that a pandemic of multiple drug resistant strains of Gram negative bacteria may be imminent. Â While infections caused by multiple drug resistance strains of Gram negative bacteria are clearly on the rise, strains carrying the NDM-1 gene will not decimate the world population any time soon!Â In fact, the authors suggest that these strains may cause some problems in India which “already has high levels of antibiotic resistance.”
There is no doubt that informing people about the growing incidence of multiple drug resistant bacteria is a good thing.Â Maybe, if enough people get frightened they may be able to induce big pharmaceutical companies—many of which abandoned antibiotic drug discovery and development in the late 90s—to reinvigorate their programs. That said, it is not clear why this story got elevated to a lead story on Yahoo News since the discovery was made almost a year ago—maybe today is a slow news day?Â Nevertheless, the impending doom and sensationalistic tone of the article suggests that reporters who cover the life sciences need some training in microbiology. This is necessary to insure that the stories that they write about antibiotics are kept in the appropriate context and historical perspective.Â That said, don’t be surprised today if the sales of antibacterial products increase and the stock prices of biotechnology companies involved in antibacterial drug discovery and development spike!
Until next time...
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!