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India’s first bio-bank for drug-resistant microbes starts operations, guidelines on sample collection in the works

Arun Sreenivasan, New Delhi
Wednesday, October 3, 2018, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

India’s battle against “superbugs” has got a shot in the arm with the establishment of a bio-repository for resistant microbes, the first of its kind in the country, at the National Centre for Microbial Resource (NCMR) in Pune. The facility last week received the green light from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to collect, preserve and characterise these drug-resistant microbes.

The bio-bank would prove a boon to clinicians and researchers in the field of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) as they could deposit or obtain samples of infective agents for scientific investigation, top scientists associated with the initiative said.  

A bio-repository is a storage place for biological materials that collects, processes and distributes biospecimen catalogs, and keeps samples of material, such as urine, blood, tissue, cells, DNA, RNA and protein from humans, animals or plants to support future scientific investigations. Though India has many bio-repositories, a dedicated facility for superbugs at the NCMR is the first such unit in the country.

“A bio-bank for resistant microbes was one of the top priorities of the DBT. Many AMR researchers have been complaining that they don’t have adequate resources and suitable specimens to conduct investigation. With this new unit in place, clinicians can collect and deposit material from patients diagnosed with specific diseases from across the country and effectively facilitate research,” NCMR Principal Investigator Dr Yogesh S. Shouche told Pharmabiz in a telephone interview.

Anti-microbial resistance has serious implications for a country like India where misuse of “last-resort” antibiotics for common health conditions is rampant. Many microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi have an exceptional capacity to survive in adverse surroundings. Antibiotic resistance arises when such bacteria, referred to as ‘superbugs’, evolve mechanisms to resist the effects of multiple antibiotics targeted to destroy them. When superbugs develop resistance to a particular antibiotic used to treat infections such as diarrhea or tuberculosis, the drug therapy becomes ineffective.

“The setting up of an AMR repository is only the first step. An extensive protocol is imperative to pinpoint such resistant microbes. We will soon issue a set of guidelines for clinicians that will facilitate sample collection,” Shouche added.

According to medical practitioners, the situation in the country is alarming. A study conducted in the intensive care units of 20 tertiary care hospitals showed that 7 per cent of critically ill patients are resistant to antibiotics. Drug resistance to first-line antibiotics also results in 58,000 neonatal deaths each year.

Despite these grim statistics, the level of awareness about AMR remains low. A World Health Organisation multi-country survey recently revealed that 75 per cent of Indian respondents thought, incorrectly, that cold and flu could be treated with antibiotics; and only 58 per cent knew that they should not stop antibiotic medications mid-course.


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