Julian’s July Column in the York Press
July 14, 2014
Antibiotics have revolutionised healthcare. Since its discovery in 1928, penicillin has saved the lives of tens of millions of people. However the lifesaving role of antibiotics is being threatened by the emergence of antibiotic resistant ‘super-bugs’. The G8 science ministers meeting last year highlighted antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats facing humanity, this is why I welcomed the Prime Minister recently adding his voice to this extremely important debate.
Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon that has been present in bacteria for a millennia. However, the accumulation of manufactured antibiotics creates the conditions for the proliferation of resistant bacteria. Antibiotic use in human medicine has been recognised as a major factor contributing towards the rise in resistance especially in developing nations where drug regulation is poor. In countries such as India and Greece antibiotics are not tightly regulated leading to large scale misuse, and tackling this is vital to ensure we confront the issue on a global scale.
This has been a serious concern of mine for some time and I have previously raised the issue in Parliament and will continue to do so at every opportunity. Our Prime Minister is the first world leader to declare the need for immediate action on a global scale to stem the rise of antibiotic resistance. David Cameron has announced the launch of a Commission on Antibiotic Resistance, which will include experts from science, finance, industry and global health and will examine three key issues:the increase in drug-resistant strains of bacteria; the ‘market failure’ which has seen no new classes of antibiotics for more than 25 years, and the over-use of antibiotics globally.
Whilst these developments are to be welcomed, I believe the problem with antibiotic resistance stems from the fact that we have no global pharmaceutical company solely focusing on the issue. This is especially worrying as no compounds are in the pipeline to tackle the problem over the next 15-20 years.
It is thought that around 200 new antibiotics are needed now to cope with the growing problem of resistance, and this is exacerbated by the fact that pharmaceutical companies are not willing to invest without an incentive, and currently none exist. If any antibiotics do come through they receive very low pricing so companies do not expect a great return on their investment. Instead, money is being channelled into new cancer drugs, which I am very supportive of, however this will be of little benefit if antibiotic resistance continues unabated.
I believe best the way to tackle this problem is for the Government to agree a stronger unit price for antibiotics. If we allow the market to handle the unit price and do not restrain it we will likely see more involvement from pharmaceutical companies. I recently met with Sir Anthony Milnes-Coates, a professor of medical microbiology to discuss this matter further and he agreed with me that this was the way to go alongside establishing a global network to fund antibiotic discovery. This is integral to tackling the growing misuse of antibiotics in developing countries and promoting best practice across the globe.
Finally, I am pleased that the Longitude prize which is aimed at promoting an innovation that could ‘solve one of the greatest issues of our time’ has gone to the challenge of antibiotic resistance. This is a £10 million prize which will fund research into how to tackle antibiotic resistance and was voted on by the public; of course my office and I all voted, and we were extremely pleased when the winner was announced on The One Show.
Turning to a more local issue, time is running out to have your say on the Local Plan Further Sites recommendations. The six week consultation will be closing on Wednesday 16th July, and as it is one of the most important decisions facing York I would urge all residents to engage in the process and have your say on proposals in your area. Submissions can be sent to email@example.com.