It has been described as a catastrophic threat – on a par with terrorism and climate change[i] – and one that is “happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country”[ii].
The threat is antimicrobial resistance, and the warnings are very real.
Today the Biochemical Society releases its Antimicrobial Resistance Position Statement, which lays out our concerns and the actions we are taking to support the battle against this potential health crisis.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when organisms (such as bacteria, viruses or parasites) survive exposure to drugs. They develop a resistance to that form of treatment, requiring new drugs to be able to kill off the disease.
The development of resistance to antimicrobial drugs is a natural evolutionary process. However, the misuse and inappropriate use of such drugs is accelerating this process. And while the process is accelerating, the development of new drugs – like antibiotics – is slowing.
Put simply: the drugs in our arsenal are becoming ineffective and we don’t have many more to replace them.
The extent of the problem should not be understated. World Health Organisation warnings include[iii], for example, that there were 450 000 new cases of multi drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2012, and that cases of gonorrhoea resistant to all drugs had been reported in 10 countries. With no vaccines or drugs in development, gonorrhoea may soon become untreatable, it says.
Nor should antimicrobial resistance be regarded as a future or third-world problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[iv], each year in the United States at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.
The threat is real, but action can be taken to mitigate it. We need sustained research funding to drive the development of new antimicrobials and alternative approaches to combating infection, particularly vaccines. The development of rapid diagnostics will also be vital.
To this end, the Biochemical Society supports the work of Antibiotic Action. Their campaign seeks to inform and educate about the need for discovery, research and development of new antibiotics.
We are also part of an Anti-Infective Technologies and Strategies Policy Working Group, a collective of societies that aims to identify what learned societies can do to address the actions from the Department of Health’s Five-Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy[v].
Hear more about antibiotic resistance at our free public lecture in Edinburgh
Join us for “Living in a post-antibiotic era: the challenge of disease resistance”, as Dr Paul Hoskisson (University of Strathclyde, UK) leads a discussion on the impending ‘post-antibiotic’ world that could soon become a reality.
The event, which takes place in Edinburgh on 15 July, will feature a panel of experts outlining the challenges that the global community faces as the drugs of today become obsolete.
Find out what it means for you and your family’s health care, and how scientists and policy makers are working together to develop innovative solutions. Ask your questions or listen to the thought-provoking discussion.
Vote for the antibiotic resistance challenge in Longitude Prize 2014
Voting on Longitude Prize 2014 closes next week. Six scientific challenges – including antibiotic resistance – are being voted on and the winning challenge will become the focus of a £10 million prize fund.
Our Scientific Policy Officer made the case for voting for the antibiotic resistance challenge in a recent blog post.
[i] The Drugs Don’t Work: A Global Threat, Professor Dame Sally C Davies, 2013, Penguin Specials.
[v] Department of Health UK Five-Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, September 2013