Published March 25, 2017

A Global Health Threat With Big Upside

By Chris Wood, editor, Extraordinary Technology

We’re facing a huge, invisible threat to our species…

It already kills at least 23,000 people in the U.S. annually. That’s nearly as many people as those who die in car accidents per year in the U.S.

And this threat is rapidly growing.

One study says it’s poised to become a bigger killer than cancer in the years ahead.

The World Health Organization calls it one of the three greatest threats to human health this decade.

I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Let me explain…

A Primer on Bacteria

We’re all made up of human cells and bacterial cells.

We get our first dose of bacteria as we pass through the birth canal. Then we’re introduced to more through our mother’s milk… and still more as we grow and interact with the world around us.

From early on, these bacteria protect us.

They fight off bad bacteria and help teach our immune system the difference between good and bad. They help feed us, producing vitamins like B3, B6, B12, and K. They also allow us to take advantage of the complex polysaccharides of plants, which we don’t manage well on our own.

But unfortunately, not all bacteria are helpful. Some are harmful and potentially deadly.

That’s where antibiotics come in.

Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have been our most important medicines to fight these bacteria. They’ve saved millions of people around the world and are one of the main reasons the average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. rose nearly 40% from 1920 to 2000.

But bacteria are able to adapt. And many of the antibiotics we have to treat infections are less effective today because bacteria have become resistant to them.

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Bacteria Are Resisting Antibiotics Faster Than Ever Before

Resistance to these drugs happens naturally over time due to underlying biology.

Bacteria replicate rapidly. Under optimal conditions, bacterial populations can double as quickly as every 10 minutes. And since the turnover of these cells is high, they are able to evolve rapidly against problems they encounter… like a drug that is trying to kill them. The bacteria that mutate and develop resistance to the drug will survive and pass on that mutation to daughter cells.

However, human actions have helped harmful bacteria evolve resistance to our antibiotics even faster than they otherwise would have.

Countless people pop antibiotics at the first sign of infection. Doctors tend to overprescribe antibiotics for infections that are not caused by bacteria (such as viral infections like colds and flus) because they often just don’t know what pathogen is driving the infection. The average child in the U.S. receives approximately one course of antibiotics each year.

The overuse of antibiotics in animal feed contributes to the problem as well. According to a study from The New England Journal of Medicine, Americans use more than 100,000 pounds of antibiotics every day. And about 80% of all antibiotics produced end up in the stomachs of cows, pigs, chickens, and other livestock to promote weight gain. So in feedlots across America, bacteria are evolving to become resistant to the drugs we rely on to treat many infections.

People also misuse antibiotics… They stop taking the drugs after a few days because they start to feel better. In these cases, the medicine kills some of the bacteria, but stronger (or more resistant) bacteria can survive. So this misuse ends up selecting for the resistant bacteria, allowing these microbes to survive and multiply.

So bacteria are adapting faster than ever before.

A Huge Threat to Our Species

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, “almost 2 million Americans per year develop hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), resulting in 99,000 deaths, the vast majority of which are due to antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Cook County Hospital estimated back in 2009 that antibiotic-resistant infections cost the U.S. medical care system more than $20 billion annually and result in more than 8 million additional days spent in the hospital.

And superbugs – bacteria that have become resistant to multiple types of antibiotics – which used to be confined to medical care settings like hospitals and nursing homes, have started to appear in the general community.

Already, more than 2 million people a year in the U.S. develop serious bacterial infections due to antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for health security, says, “The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”

This is a huge threat to our species.

But there is good news.

Some biopharmaceutical companies are developing new antibiotics that are able to stop these resistant bugs in their tracks. These drugs overcome the protection mechanisms that bacteria use against similar drugs.

This is a great opportunity for investors. The global antibacterial drugs market is currently valued at about $45 billion annually. If one of these new antibiotics captures just over 3% of market share, it could become a $1.5 billion-a-year drug.

That’s why this trend should be on your radar right now.

Regards,

Chris Wood

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