Researchers during May revealed the first U.S. case of a pathogen carrying a mutated strain of E. coli resistant to an antibiotic used as a final defense versus superbugs. As a result, there has been heightened concern that a post-antibiotic era will arrive earlier than predicted.

Antibiotics are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs for people, but overuse and misuse of antibiotics helps to create drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria can continue to thrive and spread, perhaps even to other people. Medicines may become less effective or not work at all versus certain disease-causing bacteria.

The most recent version of a yearly report released in May that was petitioned by the British government suggests that by 2050, superbugs will kill one person globally every three seconds if policy makers and advocacy groups do not take action. The report, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, has been compiled since 2014 by former Goldman Sachs economist and chair of the review Jim O’Neill. The review suggests that, if present conditions remain in effect, 10 million people are projected to die from resistant infections by 2050 and it will cost the global economy about $100 trillion.

The U.S. case of colistin resistance is not the first one worldwide. A new gene that makes bacteria highly resistant to medicine was discovered in China during 2015. Since then, the deadly strain has been found in Europe and Canada.
According to the report, a reward of between $1 billion and $1.5 billion should be paid for any successful new antimicrobial medicine brought to marketplace. On the other hand, companies should face a surcharge if they opt not to invest in this drug field. A joint statement from trade associations representing British, European and international drug companies said such a surcharge would be “punitive” and counter-productive.

In January, 83 companies including Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline signed a declaration urging governments to support work on new antibiotics.

As of March, an estimated 37 new antibiotics with the potential to treat serious bacterial infections were undergoing clinical development for the U.S. market. According to the data from the independent non-profit, non-governmental organization The Pew Charitable Trusts, 13 of those drugs were in Phase III development, including drugs from Merck, Shionogi and Actelion.

As of May, health industry bodies reportedly said pharma companies were working to develop 34 experimental antibiotics and infection-preventing vaccines.’

The U.S Food and Drug Administration in May said it is asking drug manufacturers for data on antimicrobials sold for use in each food animal, including cows and chickens, as part of efforts to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the FDA, detailed info on the use of medically significant antimicrobials – a group of drugs that includes antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals – will help the regulatory body discern patterns of resistance and identify disease trends.

A World Health Organization official said the rising incidence of drug-resistant bacteria is the “single greatest challenge in infectious diseases.” According to WHO, only 34 countries have national plans to combat the worldwide threat of antibiotic resistance, per a survey of government plans to take on the problem.

The White House during March instructed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slash rates of infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria by 2020.