The global threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has the potential to affect everyone and it can’t be taken lightly. Our over-use of these life-saving drugs, across the world, has led to a dramatic rise in drug-resistant infections. This poses such a threat to global health that for only the fourth time in its history the United Nations has called on World leaders to reach a declaration on a health issue. HIV, non-communicable diseases, and most recently, Ebola being the others.
This morning, Jim O'Neill, the man tasked by the UK Government of chairing a formal review into tackling AMR, painted this picture of a global issue. He described a world population who 'take antibiotics like sweets'. And therein lies the problem.
Antibiotics, are an essential part of healthcare – used across the world every day, helping patients fight disease and infection. They are so integral to how we practice modern medicine that without them, many treatments that we take for granted such as routine surgery or chemotherapy would be impossible.
But unlike other medicines, antibiotics are unique as they will eventually stop working. Bacteria, often referred to as 'superbugs', can rapidly evolve to be drug-resistant and the more an antibiotic is used – the faster this process can occur.
Antibiotics therefore must be used appropriately. As Jim O'Neill points out, they must be made, used, and disposed of responsibly and only where absolutely necessary.
Tackling this complex and slow moving problem will require the combined effort of patients, clinicians, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries and Governments around the world if we are to prevent the 10 million deaths predicted from antimicrobial resistance by 2050.
As the pharmaceutical industry we know we have a huge responsibility and a central role to play; we don't take this lightly.
Yesterday, 13 companies came together with an action plan of how to tackle some of the unique challenges posed by AMR. The Roadmap for Progress on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance focusses on four key areas that pharmaceutical companies are committed to addressing:
The roadmap builds on January's Davos Declaration supported by more than 100 companies and 13 associations from the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostics industries, including the ABPI.
[Image via IFPMA: Delivering on the Industry Declaration]
These are significant global responses from leading pharmaceutical companies and is a clear sign that companies don't need encouraging, cajoling or forcing into playing their part in helping to tackle AMR. In fact I would suggest that it's the pharmaceutical industry who are helping to lead the charge against AMR. The IFPMA Health Partnerships Directory already lists over 20 collaborative initiatives to combat AMR.
The industry certainly haven't been standing still with regards to developing new medicines to address drug resistance. There are currently 34 antibiotics and infection preventing vaccines in our global pipeline and in 2014 alone the industry spent more than $137 billion collectively on all aspects of R&D, with 3.7% focused on anti-infectives. The investment, time and risk required by companies to discover and develop new antibiotics and vaccines needed for drug resistance is substantial and poses some unique challenges. For this reason, the industry has underscored the imperative need for a sustainable business model for these critical medicines, without which any interventions to develop new medicines will be limited.
Since the publication of Jim O'Neill's Final Report in May, there has been a growing wave of political and public momentum acknowledging that resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest global health threats of our time.
The global pharmaceutical industry is on the crest of this wave, and yesterday we underlined our role as key player in the fight against drug resistance and in preventing the rise of the superbug. By detailing specific actions companies will take in a proactive, ambitious and comprehensive roadmap, our industry is showing that it is committed to be held to account.
The UN's General Assembly High-Level Declaration in New York rightly acknowledges that this isn't simply a problem for 'big pharma' to resolve. Keeping antibiotics effective is everybody's responsibility, and here in the UK, the ABPI and our members stand ready to work alongside policymakers, as well as the NHS, patients, healthcare providers, academia, the agricultural community and other global partners in this fight.
The world is rightly impatient for a resolution to antibiotic resistance. But only by working together, as partners, can we deliver an effective and sustainable global response to this grave threat.