The fact that bacteria have innate means of evolving antibiotic resistance is a remarkable feat of survival, but it represents an extraordinary challenge for scientists and healthcare professionals in treating infectious diseases. The impact of bacterial infections and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) worldwide is now a significant threat to public health and demands a united front of all parties in discovering and implementing new and better therapies.
How serious is the AMR threat?
“Infectious diseases are the second leading cause of death worldwide, after heart disease and are responsible for more deaths annually than cancer.”
The statistics and figures are not reassuring. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also reports that each year, AMR results in 25,000 estimated deaths in Europe (90,000 in the USA) with related costs of over €1.5 billion in healthcare expenses and productivity losses. The World Health Organisation says almost half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis occur annually, and lethal infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have reached epidemic levels worldwide.
This gloomy situation is worsened by the noticeable lack of major advances in the treatment of infectious disease in recent years. The process of producing even a single new treatment takes years because the science behind AMR is highly complex. In the meantime, bacteria develop resistance to antibacterial agents faster than it is possible to bring new effective drugs to patients.
As today is World MRSA Day, it’s a good opportunity to raise awareness about these issues. Educational activities will take place on the day and throughout the month of October (World MRSA Awareness Month) to raise the profile of the problem globally and to prompt world health officials to focus on long-term commitments to finding solutions.
What’s at stake?
We are in danger of going into what has been described as a ‘pre-antibiotic future’; simply put, returning to where we were before the discovery and access to these drugs. This means everyday procedures such as chemotherapy or a hip replacement will simply not be possible. Even mild infections caused by a scratch on the knee can become difficult to manage without the aid of antibiotics.
What more can be done?
We’ve recognised that real progress in this field can only be made through collaboration. This is why we think that our participation in the EU’s Innovative Medicine Initiatives in the field of AMR is so promising. After years of planning efforts between the EU and industry, in May 2012 the NewDrugs4BadBugs research programme was launched and will start tackling some of the key barriers to the development and delivery of effective antibiotics.
Collaboration was also the focus of a recent SCRIP Roundtable entitled ‘Preventing a Pre-Antibiotic Future’. Key stakeholders from payer, policy, patient and pure-science backgrounds were invited to the discussion. From AstraZeneca, both Manos Perros (Head of the Infection iMed) and I took part to give the pharma and drug development perspective.
These were some of the key points we tackled in the discussion:
We need to further understand the behaviour of resistant bacteria
How can we facilitate clinical development of promising new drugs from the pipeline of biotech companies?
Can we develop new predictive tools to identify appropriate patients for clinical trials?
We need to accelerate the implementation of innovative approaches at regulatory agencies to register new antibiotics using limited clinical data
How can we raise awareness among politicians and industrialists to recognise AMR as a radical, imminent problem?
You can view highlights of the Scrip roundtable below, or click here to watch the full discussion.