One Bug, One Drug (September 24th, 2014) A blog post from our chairman, Barry The British Public recently voted that the Longitudinal Prize for 2014 should focus on the rising resistance to antibiotics. The Nesta website states that the growth of anti-microbial resistance will impact all of us, and that the overuse of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine. The Government’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies supports this. She has recently said that the danger of resistant antibiotics should be ranked alongside terrorism on a list of threats to the nation.
With this context in mind I was excited to attend the ‘One bug, one drug’ conference in Cambridge, last week. This was the third of these conferences, but a first for me. The top academics, clinicians, microbiologists, vets and technical experts assembled to discuss possible approaches to reduce the use of antibiotics – to ensure they are saved for an emergency, and used in a targeted way. I have been thinking about this issue – a catastrophe waiting to happen in my view – for close to 30 years.
A long time ago I was a farmer, of beef cattle, and was pretty horrified at some of the things deemed sensible to routinely feed cattle, including antibiotics. At the conference, Evan Harrison of Cambridge University took me back to those early days referencing in his presentation case studies of animal resistance to antibiotics in the Netherlands, and describing cases of how bugs have transferred from cattle to farmers. It was against this backdrop that Symprove (or its predecessor companies) was born. There just had to be a safer alternative!
Later in the day, Vanya Gant of UCL spoke about the importance of early diagnostics of the resistant bugs, and of his belief that probiotics could form a part of the solution. He went on to say that unfortunately “around 98% of the products that can be bought over the counter just don’t work and that he knew of only 1, possibly 2, probiotic compounds available in this country that effectively delivered the good bacteria to where they can do most good”. He said that “over three quarters of life threatening infections arise from bugs that live in the intestine”, and my favourite quote of the day for obvious reasons…”The good bacteria might be able to keep the bad bacteria out”. Vanya Gant made the point – rightly – that more robust scientific evidence is needed to support some of the points he was making, but based on anecdotal evidence and early scientific results I have more than just a ‘gut’ feeling that in time the science will support what we have been seeing in practice for some time.
As one of the delegates presenting put it in a final message that really stuck with me: “The final arbiter of a new technology is the patient”. If Symprove is helping you, tell your friends. The scientific evidence is building.
Some of the points made by Evan Harrison and Vanya Gant at the One Bug, One Drug conference were repeated as part of the 5 Live Science programme. A podcast of this can be downloaded here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/drkarl The full One Bug, One Drug conference programme is available here: http://www.discuva.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/One_Bug_Programme_2014.pdf Further information on the Longitude Prize 2014 can be found here: http://www.nesta.org.uk/project/longitude-prize-2014 or follow @longitudeprize or @nesta_uk. I’m intending to start tweeting about the science in support of effective probiotics using the hashtag #probioticsciencespeak. Look out for it.