News Feature | December 17, 2014

AMR Superbugs Could "Cast Medicine Back To The Dark Ages," Says Study

By Suzanne Hodsden

A new study commissioned by the British government estimates that by 2050, antimicrobial- resistant (AMR) disease could take 10 million lives per year and rack up a global cost of over $100 trillion. The figures reinforce the importance of investment in new, effective AMR drugs, Reuters reports.

British Prime Minister, James Cameron asked former Goldman Sachs chief economist, Jim O’Neill, to offer his perspective on the situation. O’Neill led the study, which based its conclusions on the data from two separate research groups, RAND and KPMG.

Researchers limited their estimations to the six most prevalent infections: HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and three common bacterial infections.

O’Neill acknowledged the limitations of the study and said that additional and indirect impact of a post-anti-microbial era could potentially cost much more than his $100 trillion estimate.

“As big as that number might seem,” he told a briefing in London, “it almost definitely underestimates the true economic cost.”

If the development and mutations of infections proceed unchecked, the study warned that routine surgeries would pose a much greater risk than they currently do and formerly benign illnesses could become global killers.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. authored an AMR study in 2013, which offered similar and equally dire warnings.

According to the CDC, two million Americans are infected with superbugs each year, and 23,000 lose their lives.

The CDC study reports, “Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem. New forms of antibiotic resistance can cross international boundaries and spread between continents with ease. Many forms of resistance spread with remarkable speed.”

Countermeasures detailed by the report include employing several efforts to track disease, improving antibiotic stewardship, and taking greater care in the hospital to prevent the spread of infection. First and foremost however, the CDC encourages the active development of drugs effective against superbugs.

Both reports worry that not enough is being done by drug makers who do not yet see the research as imperative or profitable.

The British review commented, “The importance of effective anti-microbial drugs cannot be overplayed.”

At the press briefing, O’Neill announced plans to publish many subsequent reports on the global impact of superbugs and said that the next could be expected in 2016. He stated that his teams would be looking at plans to encourage the development and investment in AMR drugs.