Global innovation funds needed to fight superbugs

A worldwide fund is necessary to combat the growing threat of drug-resistant superbugs, according to a new report released this week and backed by the British government.

If action is not taken immediately, drug-resistant superbugs could kill 10 million people a year worldwide and cost up to $100 trillion by 2050, leading economist and former Goldman Sachs Chief Jim O'Neill warned last year in a report solicited by Britain's prime minister.

O'Neil's latest report outlines a five-step action plan, including additional funding, to combat superbugs. Not enough funding is currently devoted to research and development of new drugs to fight resistant bacteria and viruses, a problem compounded by the fact that it takes 10 to 15 years for new drugs to come to market. The report urges philanthropists and governments to allocate money "to support blue sky science and incubate ideas that are more mature."

In addition to the creation of an "innovation fund" to support new ideas to fight superbugs, the report recommends the following measures:

  • Reappraise existing drugs
  • Improve testing for infectious disease to reduce unnecessary prescriptions
  • Train a new generation of scientists in the field
  • Track how drug-resistance spreads

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, echoed the severity of the economic and medical disaster that could ensue without change.

"Multi-drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, E. coli, and salmonella are now commonplace. Most gonorrhoea infections are untreatable," he told Reuters. "Superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile are proliferating. In India, antibiotic-resistant infections killed more than 58,000 newborns in 2013."

Previous reports, such as from the World Health Organization have focused on clinical practices to promote antimicrobial stewardship. O'Neill's review, however, contends that the problem needs robust financing as well, but investment has so far been in poor relation compared to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)
- read the article from Reuters