It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since I wrote a piece for the journal Science with the headline, “Desperately Seeking New Antibiotics.” At the time, I had a lot of concerns about the increase in the number of infections that were becoming resistant to antibiotics, the need for diagnostic tests to monitor antibiotic use and how pharma company pipelines for new antibiotics had dried up.
Since 2008, this perfect storm of issues has continued to rage to the point where the World Health Organization has declared it a global public health issue. Their conclusion is that without urgent action, we’re heading for an era where people could die from common infections and minor injuries.
Momentum to fix this situation is now at an all-time high.
Just before Christmas, I received an email with the subject line ‘AMR (Anti-Microbial Resistance) actions for the President’. It was an invitation for me to join a working group for the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The group was tasked with formulating recommendations to address the growing concern around the rise of antimicrobial resistance.
This advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers directly advise the President - so clearly concerns around AMR had reached the White House! In the introductory call we heard how the President was personally concerned about AMR and that we were going to have to write a full report in record time.
Several working parties were set up to focus on issues ranging from agricultural use of antibiotics to fundamental science and return on investment challenges. What followed were many telephone conferences among a group of industry and academic experts to discuss solutions and draft (and re-draft!) the PCAST report and recommendations. Highlights include:
- increased funding for fundamental research into AMR
- funding to create clinical trial networks
- a $20M prize for advances towards more rapid diagnostics
- the need for significant economic incentives for developing antibiotics (estimated $800M/year would be needed)
These recommendations will now feed into a new task force for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria created under an executive order by President Obama that will be chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. This Task Force has to deliver concrete actions by February 2015.
As a company, GSK has consistently been at the forefront of illustrating the challenges of this area and proposing some radical solutions so we are delighted with the PCAST recommendations as they align with many of our ideas and solutions for this important area.
A copy of the full PCAST report is available here.
David Payne is head of the Antibacterial Discovery Performance Unit at GSK.