Blog.May 10, 2022

6 reasons the world needs more responsibly manufactured antibiotics

High concentrations of antibiotic residues in factory wastewater can lead to hotspots of resistant bacteria. What else could it mean?

Brown woman with a smile, multicolour scarf over an off white sweater
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Radhika Gupta
Communications Manager,
Woman facing camera wearing red sleeveless shirt
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Iris Cherry Panorel, D.Sc.
Programme Officer,
Swedish Water House

In May 2022, global leaders issued an urgent call for all countries to reduce antimicrobial pollution. This includes the safe disposal of antimicrobial waste from manufacturing facilities. Why is it so important?

Here are six reasons

Safeguard our water systems 

Effluent from antibiotic manufacturing causes severe environmental pollution through residue in rivers and other water sources, which can potentially contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) among microorganisms. Further, medicinal waste in water can reach agricultural fields, and also affect survival and reproduction cycles in certain aquatic species. The effects tend to travel across the food-chain.

Reduce the spread of superbugs

 AMR occurs when microorganisms evolve over time and stop responding to medicines. The ones that develop such resistance are called “superbugs”. According to a recent study, AMR is now a leading cause of death worldwide. 1.2 million deaths were recorded in 2019 alone.

Sustain healthcare systems

According to WHO, infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis are becoming harder to treat as more bacteria turn resistant to existing antibiotics. There is a demand for new antimicrobials, which comes with added responsibility.

Reduce economic risks

In addition to health risks, ineffective antibiotics create a load on the economy, and risky business for pharmaceutical supply chains. AMR is causing prolonged patient care in hospitals which is resource intensive for governments.

An easy win 

The problem of industrial pharma waste running into rivers can be avoided at the source. Increased technological know-how make it possible to effectively treat effluents inside factories.

There is no other option

 Antimicrobial resistance is such a great cause of concern that it has been called as a silent global pandemic. It is a shared problem requiring synergised action and responsibility across the table – of which the way antibiotics manufacturing is managed, has great potential to improve.

Blue icons: Antibiotic pills at the heart of a circle connecting a manufacturing structure, health facility and water
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Responsibly manufactured antibiotics?

Is the problem too small or less understood? Download the illustrated graphic of why the world needs more responsibly manufactured antibiotics and share within your networks.

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“The fight against antimicrobial resistance starts at pharmaceutical industries.”

Suman Sharma, Centrient Pharmaceuticals

The 2% problem

One may argue that 98% of pharmaceuticals present in water sources can be attributed to misuse and overuse of medicines. And only 2% comes from manufacturing. Then why focus on manufacturing?

The 2% is easily avoidable. “The fight against antimicrobial resistance starts at pharmaceutical industries,” says Suman Sharma of Centrient Pharmaceuticals. High concentrations of antibiotic residues in factory wastewater can lead to hotspots of resistant bacteria.

While the presence of such high concentration is restricted to certain parts of the world like Asia, Africa and Latin America, the “chances of the superbugs traveling is really high”. Iris Panorel of SIWI says that with our hyperconnected global economies, people fly in and out across the world, becoming potential carriers of these bugs and increasing the risk of new infections.

Therefore, it is really important to focus on tackling the problem at the root while we can.

Who is responsible, anyway?

The need for responsibly manufactured antibiotics is a two-way street. Demand drives how companies choose to manufacture. If governments standardise the practice of safe environmental disposal, companies will adhere, thus driving the cycle of demand for improved practices across the supply chain of antibiotics. But how can we ensure that all parties understand what is needed? Are there even standard practices to follow?

For example, global authorities like the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency strictly regulate drug supply chains in terms of drug safety – but environmental standards are not addressed in their rules. Drug producers must adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines – but those guidelines do not cover pollution.

The Responsible Antibiotics Manufacturing Platform is breaking the stalemate by creating a shared understanding among all stakeholders. It is paving the way for industry to lead responsibly manufactured antibiotics.

The question is, will those few who join lose out? Or is it only a few big players who can afford to change practices? With changing global standards, regulations and customer purchasing requirements, pharma players have a chance to “get ahead of the curve”. Brandan Shaw of Shawview Consulting says that the market is reaching a tipping point where policies will demand accounting for environmental and societal health.

Join the Platform

Pioneers in the antibiotics industry and stakeholders across the supply chain including buyers, industry, governments and international agencies who are committed to reducing emissions linked to antibiotics manufacturing, are all invited to join the Responsible Antibiotics Manufacturing Platform.

Learn more
Antiobiotic manufacturing.
Antiobiotic manufacturing. Image by Julia Isaeva.
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