Superbugs 'will kill every 3 seconds'

LONDON • Superbugs will kill someone every three seconds by 2050 unless the world acts now and drug companies agree to "pay or play" in the urgent race to develop new antibiotics, according to a British government-commissioned review.

Led by former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill, the review said every sector affected by the growing threat of superbug infections - from patients, to doctors, to governments, to the healthcare industry - must be forced "out of its comfort zone" if the issue is to be successfully tackled.

This should include pharmaceutical companies, Mr O'Neill said, which should be subject to a surcharge if they decide not to invest in research and development to bring successful new antibiotic medicines to market. For those who do decide to "play", he said, a reward of between US$1 billion and US$1.5 billion (S$1.37 billion and S$2 billion) should be paid for any successful new antimicrobial medicine brought to market.

"If we don't do something, we're heading towards a world where there will be no antibiotics available to treat people who need them," Mr O'Neill told reporters at a London briefing as he presented a report from his team's 18-month review.

He repeated the review's previous estimation that antimicrobial resistance could kill an extra 10 million people a year and cost up to US$100 trillion by 2050 if not controlled. Any use of antibiotics boosts the development and spread of superbugs - multi-drug-resistant infections that evade the antimicrobial and antibiotic drugs designed to kill them.

Mr O'Neill was asked last year by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron to conduct a full review of the problem and suggest ways to combat it. Launching his final report, he said it had identified 10 areas where the world needs to take action. Some of these focus on how to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics, while others look at how to increase the supply of new ones.

"Our arsenal to defeat superbugs is running out and needs to be replenished," the review said.

Mr O'Neill said the review's proposals would cost up to US$40 billion over 10 years - a figure "dwarfed by the costs of inaction". A little more than half of that - up to US$25 billion - should probably come from the drugs industry, he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Superbugs 'will kill every 3 seconds''. Print Edition | Subscribe