Antibiotic resistance deadlier than cancer


Antibiotic resistance deadlier than cancer

Julian Sturdy MP discusses the continued rise in antimicrobial resistance, the dangers it poses, and the steps we can take to stem its rise.

Next year will mark ninety years since Sir Alexander Fleming identified the antibacterial qualities of penicillin. The ground-breaking discovery was made after he returned to his untidy laboratory following a family summer holiday. As I return to my parliamentary office this week following the summer recess I expect I shall be having a similar experience; my unwashed coffee mug resembling the Scot’s famous Petri dish.

For his contribution to medical science, Fleming was bestowed with a knighthood, awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and made a firm fixture on any list of 100 greatest Britons. His merit for any of these accolades is overwhelmingly clear and his discovery in 1928 has saved hundreds of millions of lives.

What is less well documented about Sir Alexander is that he was also acutely aware of the threat posed by antibiotic resistance from the very beginning. This hazard results from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and is all the more a threat today due to the lack of new drug development.

The task we face is as much an economic challenge as it is a medical one. Essentially, the demand for new drugs has grown due to increasing resistance, but the supply has dried up. Much of this is down to the distinct nature of antibiotics. Whereas pharmaceutical companies are incentivised to develop drugs for the future profits on the units sold, this is not the case with antibiotics given that increased use exacerbates resistance and such drugs should be used as sparingly as possible.

Last year, I sponsored a Westminster Hall debate focused on how steps could be taken to promote and encourage research and development aimed at tackling antibiotic resistance. Whilst scientific opinion overwhelmingly subscribes to the view that a global crisis can be avoided if we take action; I made very clear that without concerted action we run the risk of slipping into a medical Dark Age where routine surgeries cannot be undertaken and standard infections will once again become deadly.

The threat of antimicrobial resistance, to give it the more comprehensive description, is already proving to be lethal. Each year 50,000 deaths across Europe and North America are attributed to our inability to treat those who have developed resistance and by 2050 it is projected that ten million people will die each year across the globe according to the O’Neil Review. To put this into perspective, the World Health Organisation’s figures show that cancer was responsible for 8.8 million deaths worldwide in 2015.

In the short-term Antibiotic Research UK, a charity based in my constituency, are advocating the production of antimicrobial resistance blockers. This will not solve the problem but it can provide us with much needed time. Another crucial step is the development of diagnostic tests that will give a clear and swift indication as to whether a patient does in fact require antibiotics; and if so which antibiotic drug should be prescribed.

Britain has a substantial foreign aid budget and I have long advocated the merits of using a small part of this to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance in developing countries. We can take all necessary action to reduce resistance at home but this will prove to be futile if a drug-resistant illness is able to spread from a part of the globe where relevant authorities are unable to take sufficient action.

Over the longer-term we must find an alternative to the reimbursement model, whereby the profitability of bringing new antibiotics to market is linked to the volume of sales. The Government will be investing £50 million over the next five years to set up the Global AMR Innovation Fund with the aim of attracting significant additional investment to stimulate global research. On the other side of the coin, we must promote the responsible use of antibiotics and raise awareness across the globe.

When it comes to prevention and cure, history always tends to look more favourably upon the latter. It is sad to say that those who find a solution to this pressing problem will not go into the history books or curriculum alongside Fleming. However, this should not detract from the task we face: safeguarding the future of medicine as we know it.

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  • Julian Sturdy MP
    Julian Sturdy MP
    Julian Sturdy is the Member of Parliament for York Outer and current Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics.
    • b13martin

      I have been wondering for the last twenty years why the medical hierachy in the UK are so opposed to researching phage medicine while they have continually warned us of the dangers of anti-biotic resistance. Perhaps it’s because it is difficult to moneterize phage medicine ?

    • Dodgy Geezer

      …and by 2050 it is projected that ten million people will die each year across the globe according to the O’Neil Review. …

      In the 1970s it was projected that the UK would be unliveable in by the year 2000, and England would have ceased to exist.And AIDS was going to kill everyone, and then Acid Rain would wipe out vegetation, and then the ozone layer would collapse…

      I cannot see why anyone believes these incessant scares based on models and accompanied by a call for more money for the researchers…

      • forgotten_man

        Always a difficult one , this.
        Possibly it would be better to have asked ‘what would have happened if nobody said anything’?
        Odds on the AIDS spread would have been widespread, heading for Black Death levels, as nobody would have bothered to study its spread or its affect.
        ‘Secondary’ effects also need to be taken into account. I have places ‘secondary’ in speech marks as more people died of starvation during the Black Death than the actual disease as most agriculture failed as there wasn’t anybody to work on the land, no transport etc.
        The ozone layer is recovering …consider what would have happened if nothing had been done about CFCs.

        Millions never get recognition or Nobel prizes for simply avoiding, or arranging things to avoid a disaster.
        The Titanic would have been just another trans Atlantic steam ship if the captain had reduced speed by a few knots and gone a bit further south….

        • Dodgy Geezer

          …The ozone layer is recovering …consider what would have happened if nothing had been done about CFCs…

          You obviously know nothing about the science. Read it up. It turns out that the ozone layer has regular cycles of shrinking and growing, and banning CFCs has had no effect on these whatsoever. We just discovered it during a shrinking period.

          It is not the case that these problems were mitigated by human activity. These problems were blown up out of all proportion, large sums of money obtained for their study on the strength of this exaggeration, and the whole fiasco ignored a few years later once a new scare started up. What I am calling for is a proper examination of evidence, not a knee-jerk reaction paid for by the taxpayer.

          If you believe that ‘science’ is an independent and dispassionate inquiry after truth, have a look at the papers that are retracted: I suspect, however, that I am talking to a closed mind….

          • forgotten_man

            I did say it was a difficult one …and plainly beyond you.
            I notice you didn’t address some fundamental point I missed about the AIDs possible outcome.
            As for the ozone , regardless of whether you were right or wrong you do make it plain that NOBODY knew the answer so inaction was as valid as action …in science mistakes are made and those mistakes are part of the ‘dispassionate inquiry after truth’.
            From what little I have seen of you so far , what you ‘suspect’ is just a reflection of what you see in your mirror..

            • Dodgy Geezer

              Yawn – you don’t get it, do you? This is NOT SCIENCE. It is fraud, pure and simple.

              In science. if you do not know an answer, you create more hypotheses and undertake more experiments until you find an answer that fits. In fraud, you make unsubstantiated claims, and then smear anyone who suggests that there may be problems with them. Exactly as you are doing now. You have not looked at the reference I gave, have you? So, you see, I was right about your mind – you are part of the problem…

            • forgotten_man

              Are you saying that when the ozone hole expansion was discovered that it was indisputably proven that this level of ozone variation was natural?

              ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’ proven?

              Therefore the ‘no action’ option was 100% proven to be right?

              Please give us the benefit of the illuminating light of your enlightened mind..

              Its OK, I have my sunglasses on, I’m ready.

    • ale bro

      the answer is to remove the use of antibiotics in agriculture

      • Lola Sapola

        Perhaps the WHO could lobby nations to outlaw OTC sales of antibiotics. Maybe the EU could set an example and require all its members to adopt the same sort of standards as we have in the UK (for humans anyway). Perhaps vets should be advised to stop filling up domestic animals (its not just agricultural) with antibiotics as a standard part of treatment. This seems to be what they do on all those vet programmes on TV and I recall my neighbour’s ancient terrier being given course after course of antibiotics whenever his breath became particularly foul.

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