EMA puts spotlight on antimicrobial resistance as river contamination spreads

By Vassia Barba

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/SiberianArt)
(Image: Getty/SiberianArt)

Related tags contamination Antibiotic resistance Antibiotics European medicines agency

EMA assembles pharmaceutical developers to strengthen antimicrobial pipelines while, in the meantime, a study found the world’s rivers dangerously contaminated.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is calling on the pharmaceutical companies developing bacterial infections treatments to join its Innovation Task Force (ITF) dialogue forum, in order to receive guidance for the creation of new, more effective antibiotics.

This move comes in response to the “growing threat to public health caused by antimicrobial resistance and the need for new treatments,”​ the EMA stated, adding that “without a sustained effort to contain antimicrobial resistance, common diseases are becoming untreatable and lifesaving medical procedures riskier to perform.”

The agency cites a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which shows that drug resistant infections currently cause the death of approximately 700,000 people globally each year and the figure could rise to 10 million deaths by 2050 if no action is taken.

A ’mammoth challenge’

One of the main contributors to the rise of antimicrobial resistance is the natural environment and the spreading antibiotic contamination of rivers, according to a study by the University of York.

Researchers examined rivers in 72 countries across six continents and found antibiotics at 65% of the sites monitored, with the concentrations in some cases exceeding safe levels by up to 300 times, due to inefficient wastewater treatment systems.

The most prevalent antibiotic found in the rivers was trimethoprim, which was detected at 307 of the 711 sites tested. The drug is primarily used to treat urinary tract infections.

However, metronidazole, which is used to treat bacterial infections, including skin and mouth infections, exceeded safe levels by the biggest margin, with concentrations at one site in Bangladesh being 300 times greater than the safe level.

Ciproflaxacin, which is used to treat a number of bacterial infections, was the compound that most frequently exceeded safe levels, surpassing the threshold in 51 places.

The data were compared with ‘safe’ levels recently established by the AMR Industry Alliance which, depending on the antibiotic, range from 20-32,000 ng/l.

In the River Thames and one of its tributaries in London, the researchers detected a maximum total antibiotic concentration of 233 nanograms per litre (ng/l), whereas in Bangladesh the concentration was 170 times higher.

Professor Alistair Boxall from the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, stated that “Many scientists and policy makers now recognise the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem.”

According to Boxall, the solution to the contamination requires investment in infrastructure for waste and wastewater treatment, tighter regulation and the cleaning up of already contaminated sites, therefore it will be a ‘mammoth challenge’.

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