The world is drawing closer to a ‘post-antibiotic era’, announced Lancet Infectious Diseases in November, ending a year of intense global debate on how to tackle the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

At the start of the year alarm bells sounded in the UK when the review into AMR led by economist Jim O’Neill announced: “There could be profound consequences for the world if antimicrobial resistance is not tackled. We believe that this crisis can be avoided. The cost of taking action can be small if we take the right steps soon.”

In May, O’Neill spoke about plans to overhaul the global antibiotics pipeline. “No new classes of antibiotics have been created for decades. We need to kick-start drug development to make sure the world has the drugs it needs.”

On European Antibiotic Awareness Day in November, the European Medicines Agency confirmed a three-pronged approach to tackling AMR; speeding up development of new treatments, promoting responsible use of antimicrobials and collecting data to advise policy and research.

In Europe alone, infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria are estimated to kill 25,000 people every year.

Novel antibiotics urgently needed

Antibiotic resistance is an urgent and growing problem. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) affect one-in-ten NHS patients; the Wellcome Trust identified drug-resistant infection as a top priority and Lord O’Neill predicts a $100 trillion global cost of antibiotic resistant infections, causing 10 million deaths by 2050.

The challenge today is that too few new antibiotics are being developed, leading to an increased use of existing drugs, leading to a vicious circle of increased antibiotic resistance. Novel antibacterial drugs are urgently needed – ideally ones to which resistance can at least can be slowed.

Governments (including the G7) are calling for new antibacterial drugs, with some introducing incentives to encourage companies to invest in these products. John Rex from AstraZeneca has called on the UK government to take a global lead by implementing a new economic model that encourages the development of much-needed new antibiotics. Developing innovative products that can revolutionise infection control and offer long-term prevention of infection is key. 

Dr Bill Love, chief executive officer, Destiny Pharma


New model needed to counter AMR threat

 The threat of antimicrobial resistance and the need for global solutions to tackle this problem have been increasingly prominent in 2015. This rallying cry no longer sits only with the medical and scientific communities but has prompted numerous political statements and commitments both here in the UK and on an international level.

 But what role can pharma realistically play in these discussions? As the key innovators in delivering new medicines, we are central to this debate but there needs to be alternative and sustainable economic models for antibiotics to provide the incentive for companies to invest in the R&D. The antibiotics pipeline is not non-existent, as some critics claim, but the 34 antibacterial compounds currently in development will not be sufficient to tackle drug-resistant infections as they continue to evolve.

 However, the challenges of antimicrobial resistance are broader than just development. Here at the ABPI we are seeking to work with colleagues across academia, regulators, government and healthcare to look at the broader issues of antimicrobial resistance. Together with colleagues from EFPIA, PhRMA and IFPMA as well as experts from within the industry we will continue to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogues to seek these global solutions.

 Dr Rebecca Lumsden, head of science policy, ABPI