Research into antimicrobial resistance is currently massively underfunded on all sides, an independent global report has concluded.

The first findings and recommendations of an ongoing review into AMR led by economist Jim O'Neill has warned that poor funding and economic incentives are key barriers in the development of new antibiotics.

Public and charitable funders are “investing relatively little” in AMR, while private and commercial investment is also “insufficient”, the report argues. For example, the US National Institute of Health, the world’s largest single funder of health and biomedical R&D, spends 1.2% of its $30-billion-a-year budget on antibiotics research, compared to 18.6% on cancer.

And yet, unless action is taken to address the issue, O’Neill estimates an additional 10 million AMR-related deaths a year by 2050, more than the number of people currently dying from cancer annually, and a cumulative cost of $100 trillion, which is roughly the equivalent to losing the UK economy from global output every year, it points out.

The review will report its full recommendations next year, but for now has highlighted five steps that can be undertaken now to better tackle AMR. These include: establishing a global AMR innovation fund to boost early research; getting the most out of existing treatments, such as exploring whether dosing is consistent with goals to minimise resistance; improving diagnostics; building a high skills base among researchers; and modernising resistance surveillance techniques.

Solution 'not expensive'

A solution to antimicrobial resistance need not be expensive, the report stressed, noting that it is likely to cost the world much less than 0.1% of global GDP and concluding: “Weighed against the alternative – $100 trillion in lost production by 2050 and ten million lives lost every year – it is clearly one of the wisest investments we could make”. 

Welcoming the report, Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said “picture a world where a cut finger could kill you. Only 100 years ago, a quarter of all deaths were due to bacterial infections”. 

“We know there’s no magic bullet to the AMR problem…As the O’Neill review suggests, real change needs proper global investment”.