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Tackling an issue of our age: drug-resistant bacteria

Article - April 22, 2023

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) has become a global healthcare crisis, with as many as 700,000 people worldwide dying annually due to the growing problem. Japanese firm Miyarisan Pharmaceutical is leading the pack in the research and development of probiotics to treat the issue.


Antibiotic resistance is today rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. A growing list of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea, and foodborne diseases – are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective. However, leading drug companies such as Miyarisan Pharmaceutical are among those pioneering research into probiotic treatments to address the worldwide healthcare issue.

According to scientific studies, the live strains of yeast and bacteria found in probiotics can help rebalance the bacterial flora naturally found in our gut, imparting a wealth of health benefits. And whilst research into the benefits and risks of probiotics is still in its infancy, it now seems likely that they will one day be medically useful and widely used – especially if Miyarisan Pharmaceutical has anything to do with it.

“There has been a huge rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB), but the development of antibiotics simply can’t keep up,” says Masayuki Uchida, President of Miyarisan Pharmaceutical, outlining the great challenge facing healthcare worldwide. “I think this is a huge issue, and the ARB issue is an even larger issue than the COVID-19 pandemic we’re in right now. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), currently, more than 700,000 people worldwide die annually because of ARBs. If we continue at this pace, by 2050, approximately 10 million people will die each year. The WHO has already raised a global alert in regard to this and called out for different private and public institutions to conduct research and manufacturing, but it’s simply not enough and they are encouraging global partnerships to tackle this issue.”

Testing in the Quality Control lab

The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock as a growth promoter has proved to be one of the main culprits in the spread of ARB. Only 33% of all antibiotics are used for people, whilst the largest majority is used for animals. Administering antibiotics to livestock disrupts the intestinal flora, allowing them to absorb more nutrients from the feed they eat and increase growth performance easily; a practice that has already been banned in Europe since 2006 in the hope of reducing the risk of ARB strains in animal feed and the subsequent risk of contamination into humans. In America, regulations have been set up only recently.

“In Europe they are looking for something to replace antibiotics in animal feed in a way that is much gentler and more ethical. That’s when they discovered our product, which doesn’t disrupt intestinal flora but actually helps to stabilize and normalize it, while still helping livestock growth performance. Antibiotics targeted at livestock are most prevalent in China, the United States, and Brazil,” says Mr. Uchida. “Thankfully, we have researched and discovered a substance that does not produce ARB based on a new way of thinking, and we have filed a worldwide patent for this substance.”

Indeed, the company’s new Miya Gold animal feed represents a significant breakthrough in global probiotic R&D efforts, allowing the volume of the bacteria in the feed to be doubled whilst at the same time reducing the cost by one-third from what it used to be. This high-volume, low-cost product went to market at the beginning of July 2021.

In terms of research in the field of digestive diseases – another key area of focus for Miyarisan Pharmaceutical – the number of new drugs made to address this has been decreasing year on year, with a market saturated for gastrointestinal medication meaning it’s difficult for new discoveries to take place.

“Recently, the number of patients with IBD such as Crohn’s disease and/or ulcerative colitis has been increasing year on year around the world, and we still don’t understand why,” says Mr. Uchida. “The number of medical and research related papers that have been published to address this issue is increasing with each passing year. We’re really putting a lot of R&D effort into this field.”