01 December 2009
As of today, the health ministers of the 27 European Union member states have adopted council conclusions concerning innovative incentives for effective antibiotics. The conclusions comprise a number of measures and recommendations with regards to antibiotic resistance, ranging from the national level strategies to ensure awareness among the public and health professionals to union level efforts to promote public-private partnerships to facilitate research into new antibiotics, diagnostic methods and strategies for use of currently available antibiotics.
– This is one of the single most powerful, concerted political takes on antibiotic resistance ever, comments ReAct director, Professor Otto Cars who has been deeply involved in the entire process leading up to the current state of affairs.
Bacterial and parasitic diseases are the second leading cause of death worldwide, and in Europe alone hospital-acquired infections cause approximately 175,000 deaths per year. Prospects for the future become even bleaker with the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria to which currently available antibiotics are becoming obsolete.
– New antibacterials are desperately needed, but investments in the research and development of these drugs has been insufficient, says Professor Cars.
– Hopefully, this European initiative can break the antibiotic R&D deadlock, he adds.
In one of the central passages, the Council calls upon the commission to “within 24 months, develop a comprehensive action-plan, with concrete proposals concerning incentives to develop new effective antibiotics, including ways to secure their rational use; and ensure that these proposals take account of the economic impact on the financial sustainability of healthcare systems.”
The EU efforts, not least under the Swedish EU presidency, have sparked a number of valuable spin-offs, notably the EU US summit agreement to establish a transatlantic task force of antimicrobial resistance.
– A majority of the central stakeholders are now stepping up to the plate, but we still have a long way to go, says Professor Cars with somewhat guarded optimism. There are indeed barriers, not only financial ones, which need to be overcome.
– In fact, says Cars, the scientific challenges may be even more worrying than the financial obstacles. The low-hanging fruit, that is drugs for “easy” targets, was picked decades ago, he says referring to the fact that the R&D pipeline for so called Gram-negative bacteria, such as ESBL-producing E-coli and Klebsiella, is particularly dry.
– However, this is a major breakthrough and I am more optimistic than I have been for many years.
ReAct, Action on Antibiotic Resistance, considers the efforts of the European Union promising signs of commitment to fight antibiotic resistance and an example of the leadership that is needed. We now hope this is the start of a process that can actually bring about new antibacterials that will benefit not only the EU and other wealthy countries, but also low-income countries where the burden of antibiotic resistance is greatest.
Reporting on the council conclusions for the Financial Times, Andrew Jack cites ReAct’s The Antibiotic Innovation Study – Expert Voices on a Critical Need (PDF).
Read F.T. article, EU backs innovation in pharmaceutical sector