Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered Penicillin in 1928 after observing a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around mold that formed on a petri dish that was serendipitously left open. By the 1940’s, Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) began mass production of the antibiotic and undoubtedly saved millions of lives. More than 100 new compounds were discovered since then and have been used to treat everything from ear infections to hospital-acquired infections like MRSA.
Unfortunately, the misuse and overprescribing of antibiotics has led to bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to modern medicine. These so-called “superbugs” are threatening to bring back diseases that have been well-controlled for decades, such as multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Compounding this problem, there has been no new class of antibiotics discovered since 1987, which leaves fewer options for doctors and patients.
In a recent interview on MSNBC
, Dr. Amar Safdar of NYU Langone Medical Center said that much of the antibiotic resistance is tied to livestock waste and that it will add $35 billion annually in health care costs.
In this article, we’ll take a look at a two-part solution to the problem, including a look at the possible source of many antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and a new approach to identifying antibiotics in soil using technology.
Livestock & MRSA Connection
Most people associate antibiotic resistance with the misuse of antibiotics by humans, including cases where patients don’t take the full dosage and/or doctors overprescribe the drugs. While these are certainly contributing factors, there’s another large potential source of antibiotic resistance that’s often neglected or forgotten – the livestock industry. The widespread non-therapeutic use of antibiotics to encourage growth and improve production in farm animals is fueling the proliferation of MRSA and other superbugs.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine
, people living near pig farms or agricultural fields fertilized with pig manure are more likely to harbor antibiotic resistant MRSA bacteria. The study examined incidents of infection in Pennsylvania taken from public health records, where manure from pig farms is often spread on crop fields to comply with state regulations for manure disposal (a problem of its own). A similar study in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology
found that a patient’s likelihood of carrying MRSA was 2.76 times higher if they lived within one mile of a farm housing 2,500 or more pigs.
Researchers are now studying the even more troubling possibility that these antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria contained in the pig manure used as fertilizer are finding their way onto and even into vegetables and other farm products that are distributed to the general population. Besides surface contamination, radishes and other vegetables have veins – just like humans – that may be capable of taking up bacteria and transferring it to humans, especially if they are eaten raw and unwashed by consumers. These researchers suggest it may be possible that the long-term consumption of these vegetables has contributed to human antibiotic resistance over time, even if the symptoms aren’t immediately seen in patients.
Bion’s Unique Solution
Bion Environmental Technologies Inc. (OTCQB: BNET) has developed a patented technology platform that provides comprehensive and cost-effective treatment of livestock waste and recovers valuable assets from the waste stream, including renewable energy, nutrients, and clean water. In addition, the technology delivers a compelling cost savings and improved efficiencies for both water treatment and livestock production.
While SECFilings has already covered the company’s approach to eliminating “dead zones” and other problems arising from contamination of water by livestock waste, the same technology could help prevent the problems associated with antibiotic resistance. First, by improving the conditions in the barn so that the air is cleaner making, non-therapeutic antibiotics unnecessary; but more importantly, Bion’s processes treat the waste in a way that destroys the pathogens that it contains.
Bion’s technology uses mechanical and biological processes to convert livestock waste into cellulosic solids that can be used for energy production, stable nutrients used for organic fertilizer or soil amendments, and clean water that can be used for irrigation, re-use, or groundwater recharge. During this process, the system also provides pathogen reduction of three to nine orders of magnitude (three to nine log kill or 99.9 to 99.9999999 percent), depending on the level of nutrient treatment employed at a particular site
More Potential Solutions
Several companies are seeking new ways to identify novel antibiotics that can be used to replace the many aging varieties that are no longer effective. About a year ago, researchers from Northeastern University discovered a way to use an electronic chip to grow microbes in soil and then isolate their antibiotic chemical compounds. These efforts yielded Teixobactin – the first new generation of antibiotics in nearly three decades.
Companies like Accelerate Diagnostics Inc. (NASDAQ: AXDX) are helping on the other end of the spectrum by rapidly diagnosing serious infections in order to reduce the failure rate of initial antibiotic drug therapy by shortening lab turnaround time. Others like Cempra Inc. (NASDAQ: CEMP) and Paratek Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: PRTK) are advancing their own antibiotic and antibiotic-like compounds designed to help resolve the issues.
Antibiotic resistance poses a growing problem to the world’s health, threatening to bring back diseases that have been well-controlled for decades. While the situation may look dire, many companies are developing novel approaches to treating the problem. The most interesting is perhaps the livestock story, where Bion Environmental’s innovative technology could be used to reduce the many impacts of manure’s use on crops and ultimately help curb a massive contributor to antibiotic resistance at its source.
For more information, visit the company’s website at www.biontech.com