[Ip-health] BBC- Antibiotic resistance: Cameron warns of medical 'dark ages'

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jul 1 23:35:41 PDT 2014


Antibiotic resistance: Cameron warns of medical 'dark ages'

The world could soon be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" unless
action is taken to tackle the growing threat of resistance to antibiotics,
Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

He has announced a review into why so few anti-microbial drugs have been
introduced in recent years.

Economist Jim O'Neill will lead a panel including experts from science,
finance, industry, and global health.

It will set out plans for encouraging the development of new antibiotics.
'Taking the lead'

The prime minister said: "If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost
unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back
into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will
kill once again."

Mr Cameron said he discussed the issue at a G7 leaders meeting in Brussels
earlier this month and got specific support from US President Barack Obama
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It is hoped that the review panel's proposals will be discussed at next
year's G7 summit, which will be hosted by Germany.

"Penicillin was a great British invention by Alexander Fleming back in
1928," Mr Cameron told the BBC. "It's good that Britain is taking the lead
on this issue to solve what could otherwise be a really serious global
health problem."

He said the panel would analyse three key issues: the increase in
drug-resistant strains of bacteria, the "market failure" which has seen no
new classes of antibiotics for more than 25 years,
the over-use of antibiotics globally.
'Time bomb'

It is estimated that drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for
5,000 deaths a year in the UK and 25,000 deaths a year in Europe.

Chief Medical Officer for England Prof Dame Sally Davies has been a key
figure helping to get the issue on the government and global agenda.

Last year she described the threat of antimicrobial resistance as a
"ticking time bomb" and said the dangers it posed should be ranked along
with terrorism.

She spoke at a meeting of scientists at the Royal Society last month which
warned that a response was needed akin to efforts to combat climate change.

Dame Sally said: "I am delighted to see the prime minister taking a global
lead by commissioning this review.

"New antibiotics made by the biotech and pharmaceutical industry will be
central to resolving this crisis which will impact on all areas of modern

Medical research charity the Wellcome Trust is providing £500,000 of
funding for Mr O'Neill and his team, which will be based at their
headquarters in central London.

Antimicrobial resistance has been a key issue for Jeremy Farrar, since he
became director of the Wellcome Trust last year.

"Drug-resistant bacteria, viruses and parasites are driving a global health
crisis," he said.

"It threatens not only our ability to treat deadly infections, but almost
every aspect of modern medicine: from cancer treatment to Caesarean
sections, therapies that save thousands of lives every day rely on
antibiotics that could soon be lost."
'Market failure'

Antibiotics have been an incredible success story, but bacteria eventually
develop resistance through mutation.

One example is MRSA, which has been a major threat for years in hospitals.
It is resistant to all but the most powerful of antibiotics, and the main
weapon against it is improved hygiene, which cuts the opportunity for
infection to spread.

Without antibiotics a whole raft of surgical procedures would be
imperilled, from hip replacements to cancer chemotherapy and organ

Before antibiotics, many women died after childbirth after developing a
simple bacterial infection.

Mr O'Neill is a high-profile economist who is best-known for coining the
terms Bric and Mint - acronyms to describe countries which are emerging and
potential powerhouses of the world economy.

He is not, though an expert on antibiotics or microbes. But Mr Cameron told
the BBC it was important to have an economist heading the review:

"There is a market failure; the pharmaceutical industry hasn't been
developing new classes of antibiotics, so we need to create incentives."

Jeremy Farrar said: "This is not just a scientific and medical challenge,
but an economic and social one too which would require analysis of
regulatory systems and behavioural changes to solve them."

Mr O'Neill will begin work in September and is expected to deliver his
recommendations next spring.

Last month antibiotic resistance was selected as the focus for the £10m
Longitude Prize, set up to tackle a major challenge of our time.

Do you have a question about the threat of antibiotic resistance? The Chief
Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, will be answering a selection of
your questions online later today. You can submit your question by using
the form below.

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