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Are drug makers generating their own antimicrobial drug resistances?

October 4, 2016 - 07:39 -- Pierre Lutgen

Submitted by Jean-Jacques Schul

Founder of IDAY-International.

As a reaction to recent articles Financial Times


Pharmaceutical companies are indeed well advised to tackle the pollution around their factories (Drugs industry strikes superbugs deal. FT Sept. 21) but for environmental reasons more than as a way to tackle drug resistances. First, a bit of biology. Bacterial resistances to drugs are usually caused by mutations : a natural phenomenon by which living creatures change their genetic codes to combat outside life-threatening attacks. It has allowed life to maintain itself on earth. Mutations remain, however, a rare phenomenon under normal living conditions : cells mutate only if subjected to very severe attacks.

Now take the example of malaria that still kills almost half a million persons per year and against which all drugs produced so far by big-pharma have all systematically created resistances: mefloquine, chloroquine, sulfadoxine, artemisinin, the main antimalarial component of the Artemisinine Combination Therapy (ACT) used today. Why? Nobody really knows, but the facts are that ACT and pesticides are loosing their effectiveness due to resistances (FT articles in December 29 2014 and April 24 2015 issues). There is a big chance that when the plasmodium responsible for the disease multiplies in the blood by the billion, it is muting to protect itself against the super high doses of the one or two chemical products used in the medication used to cure malaria crises. Instead, the plants known to be effective against the disease like Artemisia annua from which artemisinine is extracted, but also Artemisia afra, which has no artemisinine, have not one or two but a panoply of components that fight the disease. These plants have remained effective against malaria for over 2 000 years. If they stay effective even at very low concentrations of each of the components, it is because these components operate in synergy. Contrary to the costly drugs, they are cheap genuine polytherapies, i.e. they operate with a multiplicity of components that the disease has trouble circumventing. The low concentrations of the components have a smaller chance to stimulate mutations and hence resistances because each of the chemical components operates at lower less threatening doses. Look at it in the same way as the story of the frog that jumps out of the bucket if you pour boiling water on it but that let himself die in water heated very progressively. No resistances have so far been observed to the two plants and research conducted in the US on rodents demonstrate less resistances to the plant than to the drugs. Since, contrary to the drugs, tea made of leaves and stems of the Artemisia plants have no known side effects, it can be used preventively with huge benefits. Big pharma will of course tell you another story: for them it is the low doses that risk creating resistances. They do not explain, however, why research shows exactly the opposite.

They also do not explain why the only two European countries that prohibit the free sale of Artemisia annua are Belgium and France, hosts of the main antimalarial producing pharmaceutical companies and why the World Health Organisation keeps forbidding the use of the plants in Africa, the main sales ground of these powerful firms. Pity, because the plant is known by the Chinese to be effective against not just malaria but against a whole series of infectious diseases and schools that have distributed tea made of Artemisia annua to their students have seen spectacular rises in school results because of the disappearance of numerous diseases. Also – it looks too good to believe but experiences in the field confirm – Artemisia annua is an effective repellent against the mosquito that spreads the disease. The beneficial effects of the plants are such that Artemisia annua leaves and stems are sold freely in many of the world, not only in China or Africa but also in Germany and Luxembourg where Belgians and French can easily buy them. A case that the EU could use in defence of its free circulation of people and products policy?