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Future populations must have new, effective antimicrobials

It is but seven months since The Pharmaceutical Journal highlighted the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance in the weeks following a warning from Dame Sally Davies

It is but seven months since The Pharmaceutical Journal highlighted the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance in the weeks following a warning from Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, of a catastrophic threat of untreatable diseases (PJ 2013;290:295 ). But we make no apology for returning to this urgent issue.

In April, Kieran Hand, consultant pharmacist for anti-infectives at University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, wrote in The Journal that antibiotic stewardship programmes combined with antibiotic avoidance strategies might be enough to prevent the predicted return to a pre-antibiotics era (PJ 2013;290:376 ). Such programmes and strategies are highlighted in materials produced by the organisers of European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD), which occurs on 18 November.

The EAAD materials can help pharmacists and other health professionals play their part in fighting antimicrobial resistance. And, the organisers note, antibiotics awareness campaigns need not be restricted to the period around EAAD; they can take place all year round — and so they should. An article this week to mark EAAD, highlights the many things that pharmacy teams can do.

Yet it is a fact that, whatever steps front-line health professionals take, a huge part of the challenge is the distinct lack of new antibiotics in the research and development pipeline, mainly due to a lack of investment by the pharmaceutical industry. After all, why would the industry invest vast amounts of money in developing a drug that is likely only to be used for short-term treatment of infections rather than long-term treatment of life-long conditions? Not much profit in that!

Now governments and regulators are waking up to the problem, as our news feature this week indicates. The UK has produced a five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy and the European Commission is making antimicrobial resistance a priority for 2014. And it is expected that the European “New drugs for bad bugs” project, which is costing €223.7m, will help in the discovery and development of new drugs.

The Journal is supportive of any initiative that could result in new antimicrobial drugs entering the R&D pipeline and, it is to be hoped, exiting it in a form that can be marketed and prescribed. And it will be at that point, when new medicines are available, that the full force of antimicrobial resistance campaigners must bear down — nationally and internationally.

They must ensure that the use of new antimicrobials is minimised. And they must make prescribers fully understand the consequences of indiscriminate prescribing. By these measures, resistance to new antimicrobials can be delayed for as long as possible. It is no understatement to say that the future health of populations depends on it.

Click here for more information on antimicrobial resistance

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11130210

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