Commission: Antimicrobial resistance among biggest global health threats

Bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections which might lead to another global health crisis. [ Lightspring / SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission has said it backs the stance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the importance of approaching the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in a multilateral, global way.

Speaking before lawmakers of the European Parliament’s health committee (ENVI) on Thursday (22 April), the EU’s health chief Stella Kyriakides referred to antimicrobial resistance as “one of the most serious threats to global health”.

She added that COVID-19 has further highlighted the importance of addressing this global problem.

The EU’s recently unveiled pharmaceutical strategy notes that AMR decreases the capability to treat infectious diseases and threatens the ability to perform routine surgery.

AMR is the ability of microorganisms to resist antimicrobial treatments, especially antibiotics, and represents a deadly threat that claims 33,000 lives in the EU every year, with the potential of becoming a bigger killer than cancer by 2050.

The Commission’s One Health Action Plan, launched in June 2017, called for effective action against the AMR threat based on the principle that the health of human, animals and the environment are interconnected.

In her comments to lawmakers, Kyriakides said the EU was planning a range of measures to counter the threat of AMR.

“Our Farm to Fork strategy seeks to halve the EU sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and backward culture by 2030,” the health chief said.

She added that the pilot for innovative approaches to research and development and public procurement for antimicrobials and their alternatives will be launched as soon as the ambitious EU4Health programme embedded in the recovery fund is adopted for 2021.

This new incentive and new pricing system aims at providing pool incentives for novel antimicrobials and it has been included in the Commission’s pharmaceutical strategy.

The system will provide the so-called “pull” incentives for novel antimicrobials by 2021. The “pull” mechanism pay for results rather than for the effort on the part of researchers, creating incentives for private sector engagement by creating viable market demand.

EU ponders new incentives for novel antibiotics

The European Commission will examine specific incentives and a new pricing system to develop innovative antibiotics in its pharmaceutical strategy, in a bid to take a more ambitious stance against the rising threat of anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

In a report published on 15 April, the WHO said that none of the 43 antibiotics that are currently in clinical development sufficiently address the problem of drug resistance in the 13 world’s most dangerous bacteria.

The report also warns that despite growing awareness of antibiotic resistance the development of “desperately needed” antibacterial treatments is failing worldwide.

“The persistent failure to develop, manufacture, and distribute effective new antibiotics is further fueling the impact of antimicrobial resistance and threatens our ability to successfully treat bacterial infections,” said Hanan Balkhy, WHO Assistant Director-General on AMR.

In a press conference on 12 April, the head of the WHO global unit on AMR Peter Beyer explained that “antibacterial resistance is a normal evolutionary process for bacteria”, adding that the abuse and misuse in both the agricultural as well as human sector boosts antibacterial resistance.

This creates the need for “a constant flow of new antibiotics to replace those where the bacteria become resistant against, meaning we can never stop to actually develop new antibiotics,” he concluded.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission spokesperson said that the WHO report supports the EU analysis on the importance of approaching this issue in a multilateral, global way.

“We welcome the scientific data provided, which is a crucial help to the work of European experts – in particular in the context of our EU AMR One-Health Network,” the spokesperson concluded.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

Antibiotic resistance, a threat crossing borders

The rapid spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria via birds could compromise the effectiveness of many anti-infective drugs. EURACTIV France’s media partner, the Journal de l’environnement reports.

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