Antimicrobial resistance – Are we losing the battle against bacteria?

By Dr Claire Thompson, RPS Deputy Chief Scientist

Meeting with world health officials in October, Prof Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, repeated her warning that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it would spell the end of modern medicine.

It has been 18 months since Jim O’Neill made his final recommendations on how we can tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) globally.  These included the need to:

– Increase public awareness of AMR;
– Reduce the over/inappropriate use of antibiotics;
– Prevent the spread of infections;
– Increase research into new antibiotics by generating a $2bn Global Innovation Fund.

Since then, little has changed within the UK.

At the BioInfect 2017 event Jo Pisani, Pharma & Life Sciences Partner at PwC, gave her state of the nation address on antibiotics and was disappointed to see that little has changed in the pipeline of new antibiotics since the O’Neill reports. “The UK has opportunity to be world leader in antibiotic development, but with so few companies involved in antibiotic R&D, how do we advance the pipelines?” she said.

Source: Antimicrobial resistance: The state of the nation report on UK R&D. PwC. https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/healthcare/insights/antimicrobial-resistance.html

Where are the new antibiotics?

At the moment, there are less than 100 scientists in the Pharma Industry who are working on new antibiotics. This is mainly due to the lack of reimbursement models for antibiotics.

There have been calls for new models and incentives for developing antibiotics, such as exclusivities on market entry akin to those which are in place for orphan drugs or paediatric medicines, but these are yet to come to fruition.

This means that organisations such as the AMR Centre, charities such as Antibiotics Research, and small companies like Auspherix are leading the charge in developing new antibiotic medicines.
In order to progress the development of new antibiotics, we need to stop focussing on what they are going to cost and start thinking of cost of not having them.

What are we doing to combat AMR?

The key to overcoming AMR is not just about new antibiotics; improving stewardship and raising awareness are imperative. As a profession, these are some of the activities we are involved in.

Public engagement and awareness
With 1.6 million pharmacy visits per day, pharmacists are perfectly positioned to talk with patients and the public about what antimicrobial resistance is, when antibiotics are required, and how to take them. The Test and Treat service at pharmacies is under-utilised. Currently, people aren’t aware of it and don’t know they can talk to their pharmacist.

Antimicrobial Stewardship Programme
In September, the RPS launched the Antimicrobial Stewardship programme  which contains reference, guidelines and support tools for pharmacists.

What impact can we have?

In 2016, Government set a challenge of reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing by 50% by 2020. Pharmacists are integral to this. As a profession, we still have some work to do to ensure that the public know that they can talk to pharmacists about health concerns and to get advice on medicines. But the impact we can have as pharmacists (on raising awareness and providing stewardship) and as pharmaceutical scientists (in developing new antibiotics) is enormous.

A tweet from the BioInfect 2017 summarised this perfectly “Great way to cut queues at your GP. Talk to your pharmacist and conserve our antibiotics”.

Contrary to the saying, resistance is not futile – it is rife. But the war on bacteria is not over! Please play your part.

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