Superbugs could ‘cast the world back into the dark ages’, David Cameron says
The Prime Minister calls for united action amid fears manageable illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis could kill huge numbers
After the party at the FCO, David Cameron hosted a smaller dinner in Downing Street with executives from the film and television industries
David Cameron is to announce an independent review to identify why the drugs market is not producing new products Photo: Rex
By Peter Dominiczak, Assistant Political Editor10:54PM BST 01 Jul 2014
The world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” where people die from treatable infections because deadly bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, David Cameron has warned.
The Prime Minister has called for governments and drug companies around the world to work together to “accelerate” the discovery of a new generation of antibiotics.
His intervention comes amid fears in the medical profession that manageable illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis could kill huge numbers of people like they did early in the twentieth century.
About 25,000 people die annually across Europe because of infections that are resistant to antibiotic drugs, Mr Cameron said.
Mr Cameron is to announce an independent review led by Jim O’Neill, the economist, to identify why the international market has failed to bring forward new drugs.
The Prime Minister wants to set out a plan for encouraging and accelerating the discovery and development of a new generation of powerful drugs.
GPs could also be told to stop prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed.
“For many of us, we only know a world where infections or sicknesses can be quickly remedied by a visit to the doctor and a course of antibiotics,” Mr Cameron said.
“This great British discovery has kept our families safe for decades, while saving billions of lives around the world.
“But that protection is at risk as never before.
“Resistance to antibiotics is now a very real and worrying threat, as bacteria mutates to become immune to its effect.” Overuse of antibiotics for minor infections has resulted in bacteria becoming resistant to medicines. Drug companies now invest less money in new antibiotics because they cost so much to develop.Patents for many antibiotics have expired, leading more companies to join the market. It means the drug firms are making smaller profits and investing less in vital cures. Mr Cameron said: “With some 25,000 people a year already dying from infections resistant to anti-biotic drugs in Europe alone, this is not some distant threat but something happening right now. “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.
“That simply cannot be allowed to happened and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response, with nations, business and the world of science working together to up our game in the field of antibiotics.” Mr Cameron held discussions with world leaders about the issue last month at a meeting of the G7. The lack of new drugs which are capable of fighting bacteria has been described by the World Health Organisation as one of the most significant global risks facing modern medicine. Without urgent action the world is heading for a post-antibiotic era, experts have warned.
Mr O’Neill’s review will focus on the development, use and regulatory environment around antibiotics. It will explore how to make investment in new antibiotics more attractive to pharmaceutical companies and other funding bodies. GPs could also be told to stop giving patients antibiotics when they demand them for non-bacterial illnesses like the common cold. Mr Cameron also wants to Increase cooperation and support for action by the international community, including much closer working with low and middle income countries.