The AMR Centre has welcomed a new report today from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, which calls for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to be firmly established as a ‘top five policy priority’ for the Government in order to help prevent the virtual loss of worldwide modern medicine.

The Select Committee, chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston, makes a series of recommendations around investment in new drug development, prescribing habits and better use of digital health tools. Given the UK’s pending exit from the European Union, it also wants any future trade deals to require that meat and dairy produce imported into the UK meet at least the same standards relating to antibiotic use which apply to products produced in the EU.

The AMR Centre worked with life science industry groups Bionow, LifeArc and OneNucleus in coordinating a wide-ranging submission to the Select Committee.

Dr Peter Jackson, executive director of The AMR Centre, commented: “We welcome the Select Committee recommendations today, which reflect many of the concerns featured in our industry group submission. The Government’s updated AMR strategy is due to be published early in 2019, and this is a key opportunity to renew the impetus for tackling this extremely serious threat.

“The Government’s five-year AMR strategy (2013-2018) called for a new supply of safe and effective antimicrobial drugs, but the UK’s current translational capability is under invested, and not yet adequately powered to provide a sustainable pipeline of life-saving medicines to treat AMR.

“Our submission called for an urgent and coordinated plan of action across Pharma companies, SMEs, government, investors, philanthropy and academia to significantly increase investment in the translation of new AMR programs, in particular to target the World Health Organisation’s critical priority superbugs.

“Few of the drugs currently in clinical development around the world tackle these particular pathogens,” pointed out Dr Jackson “Much of the current pipeline is composed of analogues of existing drugs: new classes of drug and new therapeutic targets are required.The fact is, no new classes of antibiotics have been discovered for decades. This is the result of market failure. Pharmaceutical companies are concerned about the profitability of new antimicrobial drugs, and investment in their development has therefore been limited. Because of the need to protect new antibiotics from overuse in order to reduce the emergence of resistance, new approaches are required to encourage R&D in the public interest. That’s where the Government can step in and provide leadership and funding to catalyse further private sector investment – and that’s what the Select Committee is calling for.”

“There’s a need for funding in basic scientific R&D, but also action to improve the business case for pharmaceutical companies in further development and bringing products to the market,” added Dr Jackson. “Options to address this market failure include changes to the ways that pharmaceutical companies are rewarded for their investment in the development of  new antimicrobial medicines at the same time as reducing the overall level of prescribing of antibiotics.”

At present AMR claims around 700,000 lives a year around the world each year but that figure is forecast to multiply.  By 2050, if left unchecked, drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year and cost the worldwide economy $100 trillion.

The Select Committee reports Public Health England data on resistance rates in key infections, including E coli, K. pneumonia, K. oxytoca and Pseudomonas SPP.  The most recent data shows that for all of these, the percentage of cases involving antibiotic resistance was higher in 2016 than 2012. Some strains of gonorrhoea, meanwhile, have developed resistance to all classes of antibiotics used to treat the infection.

“Given the severity of the threat,” the Committee concludes, “AMR needs to be firmly established as a top five policy priority for the Government as a whole, drawing together the work of Department of Health and Social Care; the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs; the Department for International Development; the Foreign Office and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.”