New Delhi – A British article claiming a drug-resistant superbug came from India was “biased” and could be aimed against the country’s booming medical tourism industry, Indian medical professionals and scientists said Friday.

The study in the British medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases said a new antibiotic-resistant enzyme had emerged in India, Pakistan and Britain.

The enzyme, named New Delhi metallo-beta lactamase (NDM-1), can lead to fatal multiple organ failure.

The report, based on laboratory studies in the three countries, concluded that the superbug may have originated in India and “will likely spread worldwide.”

It said the enzyme could impregnate widespread bacteria such as escherichia coli and was resistant to common antibiotics.

Britain’s Health Protection Agency said it had identifiedbacteria with the offending enzyme in at least 50 patients. “Most, not all, had previously travelled to the Indian subcontinent, and many had received hospital treatment there,” the agency said in a statement.

The Indian government in a release Thursday said the conclusions of the report were “loaded with inference” and presented a “frightening picture which is not supported by scientific data.”

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s statement claimed that several of the report’s authors had a conflict of interest.

The study was funded by the European Union, the Wellcome Trust – a charity that sponsors medical research – and Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company that is now part of Pfizer Incorporated.

The Indian government objected to the naming of the pathogen after its capital, and to the inference that hospitals in India were not safe.

Medical tourism is a booming business for India. Patients from developed countries often opt for surgery in India’s privately run hospitals rather than lengthy waits for treatment under state-run health schemes in their own countries. Many also come for the cheaper elective cosmetic surgery.

Members of India’s medical profession said the report and the British health authorities’ stance were biased and could be aimed at the competition from India’s growing medical tourism business.

“There are several antibiotic-resistant drugs surviving in nature and they have been reported from Greece, Israel, the United States, Britain and many other countries,” VM Katoch, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research said.

Katoch acknowledged that over-use of antibiotics did pose a problem in India, but said the Lancet study was being wrongly presented by the media and there was no public health threat.

Karthikeyan Kumarasamy, the Chennai-based lead author of the Lancet article had disassociated himself from parts of the report, the Times of India newspaper reported. At least eight of the 36 researchers involved in the study work at Indian institutions.

Kumarasamy said he had not had input into many of the interpretations in the report. “While I did the scientific work, correspondence author Timoth R Walsh of Cardiff University was assigned to edit the report,” the Times of India quoted him as saying.

“The Lancet is a respected journal and you cannot dismiss the study,” eminent Delhi-based heart surgeon Naresh Trehan said. “But to call [the enzyme] New Delhi smacks of arrogance and perhaps vested interest,” he added. “The HIV-AIDS virus was first discovered in the United States, it was not named after that country.”

Several physicians felt the negative publicity would discourage foreign patients from coming to India for treatment.

“This will not only hurt medical tourism but pharma companies would now come out with more and more super drugs and super antibiotics to fight infections,” Devi Shetty, chairman of Bangalore-based Narayana Hrudayala hospital was quoted as saying by IANSnews agency.

India medical tourism industry is projected to bring in 2.3 billion dollars by 2012.

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