This World Antibiotic Awareness Week marks ninety years since Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and medical science entered the antibiotic age. Ninety years on and we are face a very real threat from increasing resistance to antibiotics.
Antibiotics are not used to treat colds or flu, they are vital for modern day medicine. Without them we risk being plunged into a medical dark age where routine surgeries, caesarean sections and cancer treatments could become life-threatening.
As Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Antibiotics I have met with groups and individuals who are leading efforts to face down this global threat, and their expertise and commitment gives me hope that it is possible to prevent catastrophe.
However, this can only be done if all of us play our part.
The APPG exists to raise the profile of antibiotic resistance, the need to preserve antibiotics through education on their appropriate use, the lack of new treatments for bacterial treatments, and to help accelerate efforts to discover, research and develop new drugs.
The Health and Social Care Select Committee have recently expressed concerns that anti-microbial resistance has fallen off the government’s agenda and called for ‘more visible and active leadership’. This is something that the APPG on Antibiotics has requested for some time, but the truth is that we need greater support in Parliament to communicate this message.
Therefore, this week I hosted a parliamentary drop-in event for MPs to learn more about the global challenge of antibiotic resistance and to seek their support to join a parliamentary caucus.
Ministers should be encouraged by this development because it is very much a two-way street. We are calling on them to ensure antibiotic resistance remains high on the government’s agenda, and in return we shall play our part in raising public awareness and promoting the cause through Parliament.
The APPG meeting focused on ‘How close are we to meeting the urgent need for new antibiotics?’ This is an area where we have not made as much progress as we should, and I would like to see the UK take a leadership role in efforts to support the discovering, research and development of new drugs.
As with most products, the profitability of drugs and new treatments is linked with sales. However, in the case of antibiotics we want to restrict their use and only use new antimicrobial classes as drugs of last resort. This means that the traditional reimbursement model offers no incentive to pharmaceutical companies to invest in the research and development of new antibiotics.
Much focus has been given to the “push and pull incentives” for antibiotic development and it is clear we need a new business model that will ensure product development is viable even if the drugs sit on shelves mostly unused for decades.
Should the UK Government simply fund new research and purchase large stocks of antibiotics? I think this will be an important element of the eventual solution, but unilateral action will always be difficult given the free-rider problem in an international context. Therefore, I would like to see moves towards a global fund.
I would like to see firm leadership from the Government to address “push and pull incentives” with involvement and cooperation from all stakeholders. Antibiotic resistance is the greatest global public health threat, it will need every one of us to address it.
I would like to see the UK take a leadership role in efforts to support the discovery, research and development of new drugs.
Julian Sturdy MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics