Researchers unite to head off ‘antibiotic apocalypse’

As many as 10 million people could die every year from multi-drug resistant infections by 2050 if action isn’t taken to discover new treatments.

That’s the message from Antibiotic Discovery Global, a new international coalition of experts in the field of in infectious diseases and drug discovery, which is to be launched today in London.

Warnings about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have been growing in recent years, with the emergence of more multi-drug resistant infections, fuelled by the misuse of existing antibiotics. At the same time, incentives for pharma and biotech companies to invest in antimicrobial R&D have dwindled, cutting off the supply of new treatments.

Sir Anthony Coates is founder of Antibiotic Discovery UK, St George’s, University of London and has co-ordinated the new global network.

“We hope Antibiotic Discovery Global will provide the much-needed catalyst through which the antibiotic discovery market can be regenerated,” he said.

“Experts from across the globe will be able to share their expertise and energies and help us to encourage new, up-and-coming researchers into the antibiotic discovery field.”

He added: “It is essential that we rebuild the academic and industrial infrastructure if we are to tackle what is undoubtedly the greatest crisis facing human health.”

Antibiotic Discovery Global says it will share knowledge and infrastructure to support global antibiotic discovery and development, including re-using older existing antibiotics for new uses.

New incentives – including a global fund

The UK government has been one of the leaders in promoting new efforts to tackle the problem. Last summer it appointed Jim O’Neill, former head economist at the Goldman Sachs bank, to head its own initiative.

The Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund aims to provide funding for projects to develop new antibiotics – with O’Neill indicating earlier this year that the fund could be up to $2 billion.

The new Antibiotic Discovery Global will work with O’Neill, and also promote the need for global PhD and Fellowship programmes in antibiotic discovery to reinvigorate research in the field.

Some progress

Despite the grave concern, there has been some encouraging news in the last 12 months in the field of new discoveries and drug approvals.

In January a team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts announced that it had developed a new technique which could pave the way for a new generation of antibiotics.

The researchers have developed an electronic chip to grow the microbes found in soil and then isolate their antibiotic chemical compounds – overcoming a longstanding problem with incubating the microbes in the lab.

The first candidate, teixobactin has been found to treat many common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, septicaemia and C. diff, and could be ready for widespread use within five years.

Meanwhile, last year saw a resurgence in new antimicrobial drug approvals, thanks largely to new US incentives for pharma companies.

The FDA approved no fewer than four new antimicrobial treatments in 2014: Dalvance (dalbavancin), Sivextro (tedizolid), Orbactiv (oritavancin) and Zerbaxa (ceftolozane/tazobactam).

However experts warn that many more new treatments need to be discovered to meet the challenge from any different multi-drug resistant bacteria.

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