More than 80 international drug and biotech firms have urged governments to work with them to combat drug-resistant superbugs which could kill tens of millions of people within decades unless progress is made and new antibiotics found.
In a declaration at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they called for co-ordinated efforts to cut unnecessary use of antibiotics and support development of new ones, including through changing drug prices and investing in research.
The 83 pharmaceutical companies and eight industry groups urged governments around the world to commit money “to provide appropriate incentives…for companies to invest in R&D to overcome the formidable technical and scientific challenges of antibiotic discovery and development”.
Any use of antibiotics promotes the development and spread of so-called superbugs – drug-resistant infections that can evade the medicines designed to kill them.
International alarm about the superbug threat is rising after the discovery in China of a gene called mcr-1 that makes bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics.
“For the world to continue to have new antibiotics, we need investments in basic science and novel incentive models for industry R&D, and to protect our existing treatments we need new frameworks for appropriate use,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson.
Former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill was asked in 2014 by Britain’s prime minister to conduct a full review of the problem and suggest ways to combat it.
In his initial report, he estimated antibiotic and microbial resistance could kill an extra 10 million people a year and cost up to $100 trillion by 2050.
While the problem of infectious bugs becoming drug-resistant has been known since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, it has grown as drugmakers have cut back investment in the field.
In their Davos declaration, the companies pledged to encourage more appropriate use of new and existing antibiotics, including more judicious use of the drugs in livestock.
They also promised to increase investment in R&D and work to ensure affordable access to antibiotics.
Britain’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, said the declaration was “a clear sign of industry’s collective commitment to beating the threat of antimicrobial resistance”.