• SuperbugsA new class of antibiotics to fight drug resistance

    According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistant is one of the biggest threats to global health today and a significant contributor to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality. An international research team has reported the discovery of a new class of antibiotics.

  • SuperbugsCDC measures have limited spread of “nightmare” bacteria

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday (3 April) that public health laboratories identified more than 220 samples of “nightmare” bacteria containing unusual resistance genes in 2017, a finding that officials say illustrates the importance of the agency’s efforts to identify emerging drug-resistant pathogens quickly and contain them before they can spread.

  • SuperbugsA synthesized antibiotic is capable of treating superbugs

    A “game changing” new antibiotic which is capable of killing superbugs has been successfully synthesized and used to treat an infection for the first time—and could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drug in thirty years. The breakthrough is another major step forward on the journey to develop a commercially viable drug version based on teixobactin—a natural antibiotic discovered by U.S. scientists in soil samples in 2015 which has been heralded as a “gamechanger” in the battle against antibiotic resistant pathogens such as MRSA and VRE.

  • SuperbugsToo many hospitalized kids receive preventive antibiotics

    A large new international study indicates that nearly a third of hospitalized children are receiving antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections rather than to treat them, and in many cases are receiving broad-spectrum antibiotics or combinations of antibiotics. This high rate of prophylactic prescribing in pediatric patients and frequent use of broad-spectrum agents suggests a clear overuse of antibiotics in this population and underscores the need for pediatric-specific antibiotic stewardship programs.

  • Super bugsAntibiotic-resistant infections cost $2 billion a year

    Antibiotic resistance adds nearly $1,400 to the bill for treating a bacterial infection and costs the nation more than $2 billion annually, according to a new study. The study, which is the first national estimate of the incremental costs for treating antibiotic-resistant infections, also found that the share of bacterial infections in the United States that were antibiotic resistant more than doubled over thirteen years, rising from 5.2 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2014.

  • SuperbugsLow level of worrisome resistant bacterium in U.S.

    A new multistate surveillance study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that the incidence of a multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogen capable of causing severe infections and spreading easily is low and mainly confined to healthcare facilities. And CDC officials would like to keep it that way. a team of researchers from the CDC and public health departments across the country report that the overall annual incidence of carbapenem-nonsusceptible Acinetobacter baumannii is 1.2 cases per 100,000 persons, and that nearly all the cases were healthcare-associated.

  • Designer pathogensNew framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • SuperbugsEuropean health worries: High levels of drug resistance in zoonotic bacteria

    A surveillance report from European health and food safety agencies indicates that antibiotic resistance in zoonotic bacteria from humans, food, and animals on the continent remains at high levels, with notable levels of multidrug resistance in two common causes of foodborne illness in humans. Zoonotic bacteria are organisms that are transmissible between animals and humans, either through direct exposure or through consumption of contaminated meat.

  • Designer pathogensHorsepox synthesis, dual-use research, and scientific research’s “action bias”

    Julius Caesar is said to have stated “alea iacta est” (the die is cast) as he led his army across the Rubicon river, triggering a point of no return in Roman history. In many ways, the horsepox synthesis, published by two Canadian scientists last month, is considered a new Rubicon for synthetic biology and the life sciences. Experts say that now that we’ve ventured across the river, it seems that we may be learning more about dual-use research in general. One expert notes that “Beyond the immediate issue of whether the horsepox work should have been performed (or published), the horsepox synthesis story highlights a more general challenge facing dual-use research in biotechnology: the unilateralist’s curse.” Research unilateralism contains an “action bias”: Horsepox synthesis is more likely to occur when scientists act independently than when they agree to a decision as a group.

  • Designer pathogensS&T sponsors workshop on “sequences of interest”

    Synthetic biology has led to the creation of new products, markets, companies, and industries. At the same time, the technology poses potential risks to biosafety and biosecurity, as recently demonstrated by the synthesis of horsepox virus, a cousin of variola, the virus which causes smallpox. DHS S&T sponsored a workshop to discuss the evolving role of databases which contain genetic sequences of pathogens and toxins — termed “sequences of interest” — which pose safety or security concerns.

  • Public healthCDC: Flu still rising across U.S.; 16 more pediatric deaths

    We are not out of the woods yet,” said Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as she described the rising influenza activity that’s swept across the United States. According to Schuchat, this past week brought yet another increase in influenza-like illness (ILI) activity, a spike in hospitalizations, and, most distressingly, 16 new reports of pediatric influenza deaths. Now 53 pediatric deaths this season have been attributed to the flu. The last season as severe as this year’s was in 2014-15, but at this point in that season the cumulative hospitalization rate was 43.5 per 100,000 population. This week that number was 51.4 per 100,000 population, according to the latest FluView surveillance data published by the CDC.

  • SuperbugsWHO: Widespread, high levels of antibiotic resistance across the globe

    New surveillance data released earlier this week by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals widespread and in some cases high levels of antibiotic resistance across the globe in the most common bacterial infections. “The report confirms the serious situation of antibiotic resistance worldwide,” Marc Sprenger, MD, director of the WHOs Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat, said in a press release. “Some of the world’s most common—and potentially most dangerous—infections are proving drug-resistant.”

  • SuperbugsSynthetic virus tackles antimicrobial resistance

    Antibiotic resistance has become an ever-growing global challenge, with more than 700,000 people across the world dying from drug resistant infections every year. As a result, antibiotic discovery has fallen well behind its historical rate, with traditional discovery methods being exhausted. Scientists have engineered a brand new artificial virus that kills bacteria on first contact. This new virus is built using the same geometric principles that determine structures of naturally occurring viruses, known as polyhedral capsids.

  • Designer pathogensStep-by-step horsepox study intensifies dual-use research debate

    The publication last week of a research paper offering a manual for re-creating an orthopoxvirus has been harshly criticized by both scientists and biosecurity experts as reckless and dangerous. The research demonstrates the potential to recreate the virus that causes smallpox—one of the greatest scourges the world has ever faced and eradicated. “The risks posed by the publication of methods that could ease the pathway for synthesizing smallpox should have been carefully weighed from the outset,” says one expert. Analysts say that the publication further accentuates the need for urgent global dialogue to develop clear norms and actions for reducing biological risks posed by advances in technology. “As governmental oversight continues to lag behind biotechnology breakthroughs, academic and private stakeholders conducting, funding, and publishing research - as well as those developing new technologies – also must take responsibility for mitigating risk,” says the expert.

  • Designer pathogensThe synthesis of horsepox virus and the failure of dual-use research oversight

    By Gregory Koblentz

    On 19 January 2018, the open access scientific journal PLOS One published an article that describes the de novo synthesis of horsepox virus, the first ever synthesis of a member of the orthopoxvirus family of viruses that includes the variola virus that causes smallpox. This research crosses a red line in the field of biosecurity. Given the high degree of homology between orthopoxviruses, the techniques described in this article are directly applicable to the recreation of variola virus. The synthesis of horsepox virus takes the world one step closer to the reemergence of smallpox as a threat to global health security. The reemergence of smallpox would be a global health disaster. Prior to its eradication, smallpox killed an estimated 300 million people, more people than all the wars of the twentieth century combined. Based on these considerations, the horsepox synthesis research is all risk and no reward. Given the known risks of this research for pioneering a technique that can be used to recreate variola virus and its questionable benefits, the publication of this article represents a failure of PLOS One to exercise its responsibility to carefully consider the biosecurity implications of the research it publishes.