The danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria should be placed alongside pandemic influenza and terrorism on the UK government’s list of threats to national security, the country’s most senior medic has advised.
Sally Davies, the UK chief medical officer, warned that antimicrobial resistance “poses a catastrophic threat” and that international action to combat this problem is needed now. Davies, speaking as she launched a report on the problem compiled by some of the country’s leading doctors and academics, called for more research into new antibiotics and better surveillance of the these bugs, incorporating more genomic testing to increase scientists’ understanding of emerging resistance.
Davies warned that the current incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics is inadequate, leading to a dry pipeline that threatens the future health of people undergoing even routine infections.
“It is very worrying. We have market failure,” she said. “I worry about my hip replacement in 20 years’ time if we don’t get this right.”
As an example of how government can push the pharmaceutical industry in certain directions, Davies cited Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative, which awards research money from governments in collaboration with industry.
The UK report also details the increase in drug-resistant bacterial infection, and estimates that 5,000 patients a year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland die from Gram-negative sepsis, and half of them have a resistant form of the infection. Davies said that she would be pushing for drug resistance to be added to the National Risk Register, which lists events the government thinks pose a high risk of creating a major emergency and now includes pandemic influenza and “catastrophic terrorist attacks”.
The alert comes amid rising international concern about drug resistance. Less than a week ago, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of the risks of one particular type of resistant bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
“CRE are nightmare bacteria,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden (statement). “Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections.”