22 Sep 2016   |   News

Pharma companies pledge action to fight antimicrobial resistance

New pact by major companies including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Novartis follows vow by global leaders for greater effort against superbugs

A pledge to fight antimicrobial resistance has been signed by 13 of the biggest pharmaceutical companies.

The roadmap, signed by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Novartis, amongst others, lays out four commitments, including measures to reduce the environmental impact from production of antibiotics, help to ensure that antibiotics are only used by patients who need them, improved access to current and future antibiotics, vaccines, and diagnostics, and willingness to explore new opportunities for collaborations between industry and the public sector.

Specific actions in the pact include a review of antibiotic advertisements and more education for doctors and patients on responsible antibiotic use.

“I am very excited by these latest commitments from major pharmaceutical companies to do their bit in the world’s response to drug-resistant infections,” said Jim O’Neill, chair of the UK Antimicrobial Resistance Commission and author of an influential review of the problem commissioned by the UK government.

“The roadmap launched in New York this week shows that a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are taking this seriously – I commend this display of leadership, and now is the time for an even wider range of companies in this industry and beyond to follow suit,” O’Neill said.

The pledge came as global leaders made a commitment on Wednesday at the UN to step up efforts to address the growing threat of these superbugs, with efforts to encourage innovation in antibiotic development, increase public awareness of the threat and the development of surveillance and regulatory systems on the use and sales of antimicrobial medicine for humans and animals.

However, there were no specific targets for reduced use of antibiotics in humans and animals, which is something that infectious disease experts say is necessary if any progress is going to be made against drug resistant bacteria. Nor did leaders call on countries to make specific financial commitments to new antibiotic development.

Drug-resistant bacteria, already estimated to cause 700,000 deaths every year, are expected to kill 10 million people a year by 2050, according to the O’Neill report.

Resistant strains of bacteria are spreading, threatening to make existing drugs ineffective. If this happens, key medical procedures such as gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements, and treatments that depress the immune system, like chemotherapy for cancer, could become too dangerous to perform.

The situation is becoming dire, with only two new classes of antibiotics reaching the market in the past half century. In 2014 there were 800 cancer drugs in development compared to a total pipeline of less than 50 antibiotics. Of $38 billion in venture capital invested in pharma R&D from 2003 – 2013, only $1.8 billion was devoted to antibiotic research.

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