Antibiotic resistance ranking high among public concerns
People in the UK believe antibiotic resistance is second only to terrorism among threats to the public, according to a new survey.
The poll – published on European Antibiotics Awareness Day – also marks the opening of submissions for this year’s Longitude Prize, which is offering £10m to the research team who can help tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Specifically, the challenge laid down in front of scientists this year is to develop a diagnostic tool that can rule out antibiotic use or help identify an effective antibiotic to treat a patient.
Around 2,000 members of the UK public were surveyed and 78% of respondents said they were concerned about antibiotics resistance, with just under half (48%) looking to science for a solution. Almost one in five see antibiotic failures as the greatest health threat to the UK, second only to cancer.
The poll reveals that the UK public are in tune with the concern of governments and healthcare agencies around the world, that antibiotic resistance is a ticking time bomb that could emerge in time as a massive public health crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned earlier this year that the world could be heading for a ‘post-antibiotic era’ in which common infections and minor infections can once again become life-threatening.
The UK government has also started to take action, with an independent review launched into why so few novel antibiotics are coming out of the pharmaceutical industry pipelines launched in July, the results of which are due to be published next spring.
This was quickly followed however by a parliamentary report that said the government was not doing enough to tackle the immediate problem of doctors prescribing antibiotics inappropriately.
Meanwhile in another survey carried out by the Longitude Prize earlier this year, nearly half of British GPs have admitted to prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily due to uncertainty and a lack of diagnostic tools.
The latest survey also reveals that some important messages about preserving antibiotic efficacy are not being heard or acted upon by the public. Almost a quarter of respondents admitted to not finishing a course of antibiotics – a key driver for antibiotic resistance – rising to 33% amongst the under 35-year-olds.
The Longitude Prize organisers say finding a solution to the 2014 challenge “will not only help conserve antibiotics for future generations but also revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare”. Competitors have up to five years to find a solution to the Longitude Prize, with regular submission deadlines.
The organisation’s chair – Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees – said in a recent blog post: “The natural evolution of bacteria combined with more intensive use of medicines means that we are in danger of losing the advantage we have enjoyed over bacterial infections.”
“Perhaps, with only the right antibiotics given to a patient, and only when appropriate, the effects of antibiotic resistance will be reduced significantly.”
Antibiotic research has fallen of favour with drug companies as they focus research upon more lucrative areas, particularly chronic diseases which require long-term drug therapy. While the number of companies with in-house R&D projects remains vanishingly small, there are signs that efforts are starting to build again though the medium of public-private partnerships.
Last month, a consortium was set up with €9.4 million in funding from the EU Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) – a collaboration between the European Commission and European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries & Associations (EFPIA) – to finds ways to preserve the efficacy of the current antibiotics and encourage the development of new antimicrobials.
Commenting on the launch of the Longitude Prize, prime minister David Cameron said he was looking to the UK life sciences and biotech sector “to lead an urgent response to the threat of anti-microbial resistance, which if left unaddressed could cost millions of lives across the world”.
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