Faster diagnostic tools that can distinguish between bacterial and viral infections are urgently needed in the UK to help reign in unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics, a report by the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance has concluded.

Current diagnostic approaches can take up to 36 hours to get a result, and in many cases antibiotics are prescribed ‘just in case’ they are needed, fuelling the resistance issue.

The review group - established by Prime Minister David Cameron last year to address the ticking timebomb of antimicrobial resistance - is calling for use of new technologies to develop tests that will enable more precise prescriptions and help preserve the effectiveness of the current antibiotics arsenal.

“To avoid the tragedy of 10 million people dying every year by 2050, the world needs rapid diagnostics to improve our use of antibiotics. They are essential to get patients the right treatment, cut down on the huge amount of unnecessary use and make our drugs last longer,” said AMR lead and economist Jim O’Neill.

While some technology that could improve antibiotic use already exists, “it is used too little; and where it is under development, the lack of viable commercial markets and reimbursement mechanisms for the end product means the innovation risks dying on the vine”, O’Neill warned.

'No interest' from drugmakers

Explaining the rather stagnant market, the report notes that drugmakers have “no commercial interest in the advent of rapid diagnostics, which would act to limit the number of antibiotics prescribed,” and compounding the issue further, it is more expensive and more time_consuming to use a diagnostic rather than simply prescribe a drug ‘just in case’ it is needed, “even if a test could help save costs and reduce waste at a health system-wide level.

To help fuel innovation and activity in the area, the AMR is proposing “a bold, globally-coordinated Diagnostic Market Stimulus pot (DMS)” that would secure a market-based revenue stream for developers of products that match a recognised area of need, and it also calls for greater funding for product developers to support early-stage R&D activities, possibly from the $2-billion, five-year Global Innovation Fund it proposed earlier this year to promote antibiotics research.

The Review will now spend the coming months engaging with governments, NGOs and industry globally to discuss and develop its proposals further, with a more detailed final package of actions to be published in Spring next year covering the whole antimicrobial resistance landscape.

OJ’s Bio’s test

Meanwhile, UK-based OJ Bio says it is developing exactly the sort of rapid diagnostic test technology highlighted the new report. 

The group is working on a new point of care diagnostic testing device, Xtalline, that uses special biosensors to identify the presence of various diseases in patient samples, with the results of the tests being displayed on a mobile phone app or healthcare systems.

The new product development programme is already underway that will see the device being used for the detection of C-reactive protein, a protein biomarker of inflammatory disease that can be used to rule out serious bacterial infections and so has potential an effective control tool reducing inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics.