It is “almost too late” to stop a global superbug crisis caused by the misuse of antibiotics, a leading expert has warned.
Scientists have a “50-50” chance of salvaging existing antibiotics from bacteria which has become resistant to its effects, according to Dr David Brown.
The director at Antibiotic Research UK, whose discoveries helped make more than £20bn ($30bn) in pharmaceutical sales, said efforts to find new antibiotics are “totally failing” despite significant investment and research.
It comes after a gene was discovered which makes infectious bacteria resistant to the last line of antibiotic defence, colistin (polymyxins).
The resistance to the colistin antibiotic is considered to be a “major step” towards completely untreatable infections and has been found in pigs and humans in England and Wales.
Public Health England said the risk posed to humans by the mcr-1 gene was “low” but was being monitored closely.
Performing surgery, treating infections and even travelling abroad safely all rely to some extent on access to effective antibiotics.
It is feared the crisis could further penetrate Europe as displaced migrants enter from a war-torn Middle East, where countries such as Syria have increasing levels of antibiotic resistance.
Dr Brown told said: “It is almost too late. We needed to start research 10 years ago and we still have no global monitoring system in place.
The drugs don’t work: our post-antibiotic future could already be here
“The issue is people have tried to find new antibiotics but it is totally failing – there has been no new chemical class of drug to treat gram-negative infections for more than 40 years.
“I think we have got a 50-50 chance of salvaging the most important antibiotics but we need to stop agriculture from ruining it again.”