Could Treating Superbugs Like Rare Diseases Save Us From Crisis?

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The Infectious Diseases Society of America has presented the FDA with a new idea for bringing superbugs, fueled by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in factory farming and healthcare, back under control. Finding new antibiotics isn’t profitable especially when compared to the latest trendy pharmaceutical drug, so very few pharmaceutical companies are doing any research into developing new antibiotics. These drugs are needed to treat the superbugs that are becoming more and more of a problem, according to News Daily.

The Orphan Drug Act

Strains of MRSA and salmonella have wreaked havoc on our nation’s hospital and food system. MRSA kills 19,000 people per year. Congress passed the Orphan Drug Act in 1983 to motivate pharmaceutical companies to produce less profitable drugs for rare diseases. The bill provided tax incentives, marketing rights, and other perks to companies that developed such drugs. IDSA wants to do the same with antibiotics in order to incentivize companies to dive into new research.

The FDA’s Janet Woodcock says that drug resistance has reached crisis proportions.

"We need antibiotics to be used for life-threatening infections that lack medical treatments ... and not for your kid's ear infection," Woodcock said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The Real Antibiotics Overuse

While this is all well and good, let’s be honest about where the majority of antibiotic overuse and extreme misuse is rooted: in factory farming. By most accounts, 70 percent of antibiotics are used in animals. The FDA’s draft guideline on the subject, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals outlined the need to limit and phase out the use of antibiotics to accelerate the weight of livestock.

This "sub-therapeutic" use of antibiotics is often administered to entire flocks or herds through feed or water and isn't directed toward a particular disease. This continual use of low dose antibiotics creates a breeding ground for drug resistance, posing risks for humans and animals. When just one bacteria survives antibiotics it has the ability to multiply and create "superbugs" that can evade antibiotics.

The FDA Slow to Act on Drug Resistance

But the FDA has been slow to act on antibiotic resistance. The agency has rejected a petition to ban certain antibiotics for use in livestock that are important for the preservation of human health. The two petitions, filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), and the Union of Concerned Scientists, were requested in 1999 and 2005.

While research into antibiotic development is undoubtedly important, the overuse, much of which is a product of the factory farming industry, is where the problem is rooted. No matter how many new drugs we come up with, if their use is not controlled, we will run into the same issue over and over again.

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Tags: Animal Rights | Antibiotics | Factory Farming | Food Safety