The misuse of antibiotics mean a major crisis could be on the way
A leading expert has warned it is "almost too late" to stop a global superbug crisis caused by the misuse of antibiotics.
Scientists have a "50-50" chance of salvaging existing antibiotics from bacteria which has become resistant to its effects, according to Dr David Brown.
The director at Antibiotic Research UK said efforts to find new antibiotics are "totally failing" despite significant investment and research.
His warning comes after a gene was discovered which makes infectious bacteria resistant to the last line of antibiotic defence, colistin (polymyxins).
Doctors turn to colistin when all other antibiotics fail, and resistance to this antibiotic, which has been found in pigs and humans in England and Wales, is feared to be a "major step" towards infections becoming completely untreatable.
Public Health England said the risk posed to humans by the mcr-1 gene was "low" but was being monitored closely.
It is feared the crisis could grow in Europe because of migration from the Middle East, where countries such as Syria have increasing levels of antibiotic resistance.
Dr Brown said: "It is almost too late. We needed to start research 10 years ago and we still have no global monitoring system in place.
"People have tried to find new antibiotics but it is totally failing - there has been no new chemical class of drug to treat gram-negative infections for more than 40 years.
"I think we have got a 50-50 chance of salvaging the most important antibiotics but we need to stop agriculture from ruining it again."
Resistance is thought to have grown due to colistin being heavily used in farming, particularly in China, often to increase the physical size of livestock.
Worldwide, the demand for colistin in agriculture was expected to reach almost 12,000 tonnes per year by the end of this year, rising to 16,500 tonnes by 2021.
In the UK, nearly half of all antibiotics used are in farming, according to reports, although the use of it as a growth agent has been banned in the EU since 2006.
The unnecessary prescription and use of antibiotics as a form of treatment is also believed to be an aggravating factor.
British scientists re-examined 24,000 samples of bacteria from food and humans in the UK following the discovery of mcr-1 in China in November and found the gene in just 15 samples.
The Soil Association said the mcr-1 was found in E. coli from two pig farms, in stored E. coli from a pig and in three E. coli samples from two human patients which were also found to be resistant to other antibiotics.
It was also found in 10 human salmonella infections and in salmonella from a single imported sample of poultry meat.