War On Superbugs Spearheaded By British PM David Cameron
July 2, 2014

War On Superbugs Spearheaded By British PM David Cameron

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In the latest development in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Wednesday that former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill would lead an independent review panel to find market-based solutions to the emergence of so-called ‘superbugs.’

"There is a market failure; the pharmaceutical industry hasn't been developing new classes of antibiotics, so we need to create incentives,” Cameron told BBC News. "If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again."

O'Neill is expected to cobble together experts from around the globe to identify both the major problems and their solutions when it comes to battling superbugs. More specifically, the commission will try to find ways to push antibiotic development, possibly paying drugmakers to develop new products even if the product will only be used sparingly.

Alexander Fleming's discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928 set the clock in motion for the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. In recent years, the resistance problem has gotten worse as more resistant strains have come forward and drug companies have scaled back on what they see as an unprofitable venture – developing drugs to battle strains that don’t reach epidemic levels.

"Penicillin was a great British invention by Alexander Fleming back in 1928," Cameron told the BBC. "It's good that Britain is taking the lead on this issue to solve what could otherwise be a really serious global health problem."

Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, called for action “on a global scale to slow down antimicrobial resistance.”

“In Europe, at least 25,000 people a year already die from infections which are resistant to our drugs of last resort,” she said, according to The Daily Mail. "New antibiotics made by the biotech and pharmaceutical industry will be central to resolving this crisis which will impact on all areas of modern medicine.”

In addition to potentially being a public health crisis, the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria is also a threat to many medical treatments – from Cesarean sections to cancer treatments. The new panel to fight this threat is being supported by a donation of over $850,000 from UK medical research charity The Wellcome Trust.

"Drug-resistant bacteria, viruses and parasites are driving a global health crisis," said Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust. "This is not just a scientific and medical challenge, but an economic and social one too which would require analysis of regulatory systems and behavioral changes to solve them."

According to a study published last week, scientists may have identified one new weapon in the fight against superbugs – a fungus from Nova Scotia.

Published in the journal Nature, that study revealed that a fungus-derived molecule, known as AMA, has the ability to disarm NDM-1, one of the most dangerous antibiotic resistant drugs.

“This is public enemy number one,” said study author Gerry Wright, an infectious disease expert at McMaster University. “It came out of nowhere, it has spread everywhere and has basically killed our last resource of antibiotics, the last pill on the shelf, used to treat serious infections.”