Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: India-UK: Tackling antimicrobial resistance in the environment from antimicrobial manufacturing waste

The aim of this collaborative programme is to:

  • better understand the extent of environmental antimicrobial pollution from antimicrobial manufacturing waste
  • develop and validate globally-relevant standardisation methods and tools for detection
  • determine the impact on human and animal health.
£3.8 million from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for UK researchers plus support from Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India for Indian researchers
2020 to 2023
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India

The scope and what we're doing

Antimicrobial resistance is a global public health challenge. Resistance is viewed as posing one of the most serious health threats. Studies indicate high levels of antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes in various environments around the world. These originate particularly from sewage, agriculture and antimicrobial manufacturing effluent. The role of effluent from antimicrobial manufacturing is particularly pertinent to India.

The programme’s funded research will focus on the situation in India, as a major producer of antimicrobials in the global supply chain of the pharmaceutical industry, and a scientifically appropriate place to study this global issue.

A partnership between DBT and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), this programme seeks to:

  • understand the extent of environmental antimicrobial pollution from antimicrobial manufacturing waste (wastewater, solid waste and atmospheric emissions), its pathways through environmental systems, and its role in driving emergence and circulation of antimicrobial resistance in the environment
  • develop and validate globally-relevant standardised methods and tools for detecting active antimicrobials and resistant bacteria in effluents and receiving environments
  • determine the impact on human and animal health from environmental exposure to high levels of antimicrobial pollution and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and genes.

Projects must address at least one of the above challenges. The output of the research should contribute to developing international environmental standards to limit antimicrobial discharge in pharmaceutical manufacturing effluent.

Why we're doing it

A growing number of published studies indicate high levels of antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes in various environments around the world. This accumulation creates the conditions for resistant bacteria to proliferate and transmit from the environment directly to humans as well as through the selection and horizontal gene transfer from commensal to pathogenic bacteria (PDF).

Read Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment on the Houses of Parliament website.

While it is unclear what the significance of the impact manufacturing waste might have on the environment, there is potential for high levels of localised contamination. This is because of the large quantity of antimicrobial waste generated during the production process relative to the diffuse environmental exposure that may result from patient or animal use.

Recent studies have shown that wastewater effluents from antibiotic manufacturing units contain a substantial amount of antibiotics. This leads to rivers and lakes becoming contaminated. The manufacturing process can also potentially contaminate environments through vaporisation or other solid waste disposal methods.

Current global discharge standards for antimicrobial manufacturing effluent do not include antibiotic residues, and consensus around safe limits for antibiotic discharge has yet to emerge. Through the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Industry Alliance, the pharmaceutical industry is taking voluntary action to reduce the environmental impact from antimicrobial manufacturing.

In September 2018, the AMR Industry Alliance published science-driven, risk-based targets for discharge concentrations of antibiotics, which will be updated periodically as new, reliable and robust data become available.

Download AMR Industry Alliance Antibiotic Discharge Targets List of Predicted No-Effect Concentrations (PDF, 199KB) from their website.

The Access to Medicines Foundation’s AMR benchmark provides an independent evaluation of how pharmaceutical companies are halting the rise of drug resistance. The 2018 benchmark includes environmental stewardship metrics and will be updated for release in 2020. However, significant knowledge gaps remain around the scale of contamination and the risk presented to the environment and humans to determine appropriate discharge targets.

Who to contact

Last updated: 11 August 2023

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