Call to discover new antibiotics to stop global crisis

E.coli bacteria Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Antibiotic resistance to infections, such as urinary tract infections caused by E.coli bacteria, is increasing

"Major challenges" to developing new drugs are fuelling global resistance to antibiotics, according the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

In a new report, the RPS has called for new initiatives to spur on companies to discover new antibiotics, or people will start "dying from simple surgery".

Pharmaceutical firms currently tend to make drugs for more profitable, long term conditions, it said.

The government said "urgent action must be taken".

Developing a new medicine is currently a "costly and lengthy process", said the RPS.

It can cost up to £1bn to take a drug from an initial idea into the market, in a process that can take 12 years, the report said. Drugs will often fail throughout the development process.

And the cost of a drug failing increases as the stage of development gets later.

'Sea change'

Prof Jayne Lawrence, chief scientist at the RPS, told the BBC the incentives for developing new antibiotics were currently "very poor".

She said antibiotics were "only used for short periods" and so the volume of sales was low.

"It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find new drugs," she said.

Scientists tended to look everywhere - from nature, such as frogs and toads, to marine life and viruses, for inspiration for new drugs.

But Prof Lawrence said the last new antibiotic was discovered in 1987 and called for a "sea change" in funding for new discoveries.

She suggested companies could be paid up front for the cost of drug development, rather than when the drug came to market, and that companies could collaborate to develop new drugs to keep costs down.

"At the moment we are not there, but if we do not find some new antibiotics, we will return to the early part of last century where people die from simple surgical procedures," she said.

The report said action must be taken to reduce the time and the cost of developing a new antibiotic.

'Serious problems'

It also called for better public education about how to use medicines, and for healthcare workers to manage drugs more effectively.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it knew action must be taken to combat antimicrobial resistance or "we could face serious problems in years to come".

She said the UK was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organisations to address the problem.

"The development of new antibiotics is key and we are identifying opportunities to promote this.

"Equally important are better education for patients and NHS staff about good antibiotic prescribing, high-quality infection control, and support for research," she added.

A report by WHO last month said resistance to antibiotics posed a "major global threat" to public health.

Prof Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, also said last year that said the rise in drug-resistant infections was comparable to the threat of global warming.

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