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Becca's blog: Gut health adventures in Bulgaria

14th Jun 2019 / By Rebecca Veale

I travelled to Bulgaria last week to visit a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant and a gut health seminar, big thanks to Huvepharma for this opportunity and for looking after us all so well.

Becca BulgariaThere are very few pharmaceutical companies which manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in Europe any more, and, as such, this aspect of the trip was too good to miss.

Not only are they manufacturing APIs, but they are expanding with a new fermentation unit, which will open this August. Pharmaceutical ingredients are produced in different ways and fermentation is an important one for antibiotics.

The process of fermentation allows for the organisms responsible for growing antibiotic to be produced, which they then do and are isolated to be made into whichever formulation is required. Of course, I’ve made a very technical and precise process sound incredibly easy – there are fermentations which take place to produce the seed stock, production of steam, water treatment, production of granules or whatever formulation is needed, the list goes on! It gave me a real appreciation of the process and I was blown away by the scale.

Antibiotics are necessary, like many other types of medicine, within all livestock sectors to maintain the health and welfare of sick animals, but we have made a conscious effort in the UK to take a more responsible approach with industry targets and stewardship schemes, as have other European countries.

And in this cintext, the seminar on gut health was a great follow on to the visit because this is often associated with the use of antibiotics in pigs. Whilst we know a lot, there is plenty we don’t know about the biology and microorganisms within the pigs gut, referred to as the microbiome; understanding is developing all the time and the talk by Professor Richard Ducatelle from the University of Ghent was fascinating.

There are billions of microbes within the gastro intestinal tract and the key to our future understanding is being able to say which the good bugs and which bad bugs are. We know some of this already and the effects they can cause, for instance Helicobacter suis triggers inflammation within the stomach of the pig, and when present allows other organisms, such as Salmonella, to thrive within the gut.

And it is not just microbes which are affected, the structure of the cells which line the gut can be altered and there is huge interaction with the immune system. There is lots we can do to optimise the microbiome, but probably too much technical detail for a blog so do let me know if you fancy a chat about it!

We also heard from nutritionist Kevin Stickney from Harbro in the UK. He discussed the importance of getting the feed formulation right in the context of each unit to optimise the relationship between the pig and their microbiome.

This can be more challenging in the UK given our mix of production systems. Solutions to optimising this relationship without using antimicrobials are not just about them being effective – they must be feasible, and provide a return on investment, which means knowing what is going in and coming out!

This is just a snapshot of the few days I spent in Bulgaria and it is an area of science we all need to keep track of, because as we look to encourage the responsible use of antibiotics further over the coming years and, as we lose zinc oxide, the other options in terms of optimising the gut health of pigs are going to be more important than ever.

I’ll be back next week with some more antibiotics chat!