The British Government is Trying

Given the ramifications of a world without antibiotics, and the dearth of viable products in the pipeline, you’d think the world’s governments would make some cash incentives available, or attempt to create new products themselves.

Unfortunately the appropriate large and generous reaction is unlikely because it doesn’t win votes. This is the same reason why the city of New Orleans failed to prepare for the inevitable hurricane – it was easier to save dollars and try to be re-elected than “waste” money protecting the public from something that didn’t happen in the short term.

The good news is that the UK government is potentially making an effort, thanks to the recommendations of a Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), led by former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill:

The first is to establish a five-year $2 billion (£1.3 billion) AMR Innovation Fund to support research and development. Pharmaceutical companies would provide the money – equivalent to less than 0.6% of the top 10 companies’ current R&D expenditure – and universities and small bio-tech companies would receive funding to kick-start early-stage research.

…The second recommendation is to create one global purchaser funded by governments and healthcare providers. This would reward drug companies for valuable new antibiotics – not through sales volume, but based on their social value. [The Conversation]

Hopefully it amounts to something, or even leads to inter-government dialogue.

£10m Longitude Prize to Fight Antibiotic Resistance

The British public voted, and chose wisely from the six contenders for the Longitude Prize (which is essentially funded by national lottery profits).

The fight against antibiotic resistance will be the focus of a £10m fund, it has been announced. Both amateur and professional scientists will be encouraged to try to come up with the solution to the problem of decreasing effectiveness of the drugs as part of this year’s Longitude Prize.

The challenge, one of six proposed, was set by public vote on Wednesday. Scientists are now asked to to come up with a “cost-effective, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time”.
[Source: The Guardian]

At least the goal is achievable. To find a new type of antibiotic, the prize would need to be in the hundreds of millions to get big-pharma interested.

WHO Study – Resistance is Worse Than AIDS

[Nothing new here – unless governments act]
Deaths from cuts and grazes, diarrhoea and flu will soon be common as antibiotics lose their power to fight minor infections, experts have warned.

The World Health Organisation says the problem has been caused by antibiotics being so widely prescribed that bacteria have begun to evolve and develop resistance.

It claims the crisis is worse than the Aids epidemic – which has caused 25 million deaths worldwide – and threatens to turn the clock back on modern medicine.

The WHO warns that the public should ‘anticipate many more deaths’ as it may become routine for children to develop lethal infections from minor grazes, while hospital operations become deadly as patients are at risk of developing infections that were previously treatable.

Doctors are increasingly finding that antibiotics no longer work against urinary and skin infections, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director for health security, said: ‘Without urgent, co-ordinated action, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

In the largest study of its kind, the WHO looked at data from 114 countries on seven major types of bacteria. Experts are particularly concerned about bacteria responsible for pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea

Read more:

AntiBacterial Crackdown in USA

An estimated 75% of the anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the United States contain triclosan, a germ-killing ingredient. The only problem is, the Food and Drug Administration has no idea whether it actually works — and there’s some evidence it may pose health risks. [USA Today]

Consequently the FDA has “proposed rule requiring manufacturers to prove that their antibacterial cleaners are safe and more effective than plain soap and water”. That’s because when a product is promoted as killing 99.9% of germs, that’s the same result you get from soap and water. However, Antibacterial products can increase resistance in antibiotics.

The advertising used for these products makes consumers think if they wash with them they won’t get sick, said Kweder. “You’ll see pictures of people sneezing and coughing and looking pretty ill.”

But many of those images “look like people who have viral illnesses” such as the common cold, she said. Viruses are the most common cause of infections in the United States and antibacterial agents have no effect on them.

In Australia Dettol, presumably to counter the backlash they see coming, has been heavily promoting their hand wash product via Sophie’s story:

Superbugs are a Dire Threat: English CMO

The Chief Medical Officer of England is concerned about the rise of “superbugs”, and is calling for urgent action. Unfortunately this is about a decade too late – the damage is done.

If tough measures are not taken to restrict the use of antibiotics and no new ones are discovered, said Dame Sally Davies, “we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar to the early 19th century at some point”.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat,” said Davies. “If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics. And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.

Suggested strategies include:

  • Incentives for drug companies to find new antibiotics
  • Taxing or otherwise limiting antibiotic usage
  • Encouraging reduced use in other countries, especially those where over-the-counter purchases occur

Full story at The Guardian.

Disturbing New Statistics

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in England has provided the Independent with the following information:

Until 2008, there were fewer than five cases a year in the UK of bugs resistant to carbapenem, our most effective intravenous (IV) antibiotic. New statistics reveal how there have been 386 cases already this year, in what the HPA has called a “global public health concern”. Doctors are particularly concerned because carbapenems are often the last hope for hospital patients suffering from pneumonia and blood infections that other antibiotics have failed to treat. Such cases were unknown in the UK before 2003.

Within the EU, more than 25,000 people are dying each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, and the numbers are sure to keep rising. A WHO conference held in Baku, Azerbaijan last week unveiled an action plan that has been agreed to by 50 countries.

Insights from the USDA

While they do their best to distance themselves from the information, the USDA has published the following info:

  • A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.
  • “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”
  • “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure.”
  • [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals

Read more at Mother Jones

Not surprisingly, the USDA, under pressure from meat producers, has removed the report, and the researcher has been silenced. It’s pretty sad when the lives of millions are ignored in favor of the pursuit of commerical dollars. Especially when the industry would not die, just lessen due to lower yields increasing prices… I’m sure there will never be a surplus of beef in the USA.