Statement by Antibiotic Resistance Action Center on spread of dangerous superbug gene from China to Denmark

December 3, 2015

Media Contacts: Nicole Tidwell, [email protected], 614-309-1293 and Kathleen Fackelmann, [email protected], 202-994-8354

WASHINGTON, DC (December 3, 2015)—On November 19, it was reported in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases that researchers had discovered bacteria with a dangerous new antibiotic-resistance gene that is spreading from livestock to people in China. The gene bestows resistance to the antibiotic colistin, which is considered the last drug available to treat some deadly infections. Today, Danish researchers announced that this same resistance gene has been found in bacteria infecting one person in Denmark and on five imported meat products tested between 2012 and 2014 suggesting that the gene is already spreading globally.

In response, the following statement was released by Lance Price, PhD, Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University:

The news that the dangerous colistin-resistance gene has been found in Denmark is alarming. This newly identified gene, called MCR-1, is on a mobile piece of DNA that can make copies of itself and then jump to from bacterium to bacterium, spreading resistance. History shows that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently riding in people, animals, and food. The news that MCR-1 has been discovered in Denmark suggests that this scenario is playing out in real time.

Our colleagues at the Statens Serum Institut and the National Food Institute in Denmark reacted quickly to the recent report from China by screening their collections of bacteria for signs of the global spread of MCR-1. We have to do the same thing in the U.S. to determine if bacteria carrying this gene have already made their way to our food supply or, worse yet, our people.

We must act swiftly to contain the spread of colistin-resistant bacteria, or we will face increasing numbers of untreatable infections. Leaders from every nation should immediately implement a ban on the use of colistin in animal agriculture. While China appears to be the biggest user of the drug, it is approved for use in the the European Union and many other countries. It also is approved for use in food animals in the U.S., but drug companies holding those approvals are not actively marketing the drugs. Drug companies with these approvals should immediately withdraw these label claims to ensure that colistin is never used in U.S. animal agriculture, otherwise our livestock production facilities could become breeding grounds for untreatable superbugs.

In addition, we need to remember why colistin is the last drug available for treating these dangerous infections. We turned to it because the preferred drug class – carbapenems – became powerless against some superbugs due to overuse. Carbapenems are still effective against many bacteria, but for how long? While carbapenems are not approved for use in animal agriculture in many parts of the world, their use is not explicitly banned. World leaders should call for an immediate ban on carbapenems to protect them for future generations.

Colistin and carbapenems are the last lines of defense between humans and some of the most dangerous bacteria. Protecting these drugs is of the utmost importance and urgency. Superbugs are gaining strength because we continue to squander these precious medicines through over use in human medicine and as cheap production tools in animal agriculture. 

Dr. Lance Price is available for interviews. Please contact Nicole Tidwell, [email protected], 614-309-1293 or Kathleen Fackelmann, [email protected], 202-994-8354


About Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University: Established in July 1997 as the School of Public Health and Health Services, Milken Institute School of Public Health is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,700 students from almost every U.S. state and 39 countries pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school also offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, and an online Executive Master of Health Administration, MHA@GW, which allow students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world.

About the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center:  The Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC) was created to reduce antibiotic resistance worldwide by promoting good stewardship practices in humans and animals. ARAC is conducting cutting-edge research and strategic communications that promotes evidence-based policy to curb the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Specifically the center conducts research to close critical knowledge gaps and identify the primary drivers of antibiotic resistance, especially in animal agriculture; develops and evaluates strategies to decrease unnecessary antibiotic use in animals and humans; designs and implements effective strategies to detect and stop the spread of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and advocates for evidence-based policies aimed at preserving the antibiotics we still have left while slowing the progression of this global public health threat. Learn more at our website. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.