Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The inconvenient fact of drug resistance

In 2011, a fifth of the global human population perished on account of infectious diseases. With the power of anti-microbial and anti-bacterial drugs literally coming to an end, some 9.5 million people in developing countries paid the price for the growing resistance of bugs. Given the fact that no new class of antibacterial drugs has been discovered since 1987, humanity runs the risk of death from most common infections like never before.

Dame Sally C Davies, the first woman chief medical officer for England in over 150 years, made this revelation in 'The Drugs Don't Work'."While new drugs have not been discovered, the existing formulations have been misused through overuse and false prescriptions," says Davies, "resulting in the bugs growing in resistance and fighting back with vengeance".

Already resistant bugs are killing 25,000 people a year across Europe. The same number die in road accidents. In the US, some 23,000 people die fighting infections each year, whereas in southeast Asia one child dies every five minutes.

As India is home to some deadly infections like diarrhea, pneumonia, typhoid, encephalitis and dengue, cumulative human casualty across different age groups is reportedly in excess of five million each year.
On an average, antibiotics add 20 years to our lives provided new formulations are developed before bugs become immune to existing drugs.

Shockingly, it has been more than 20 years since a new drug has been developed, trapping developing countries like India in the double whammy of unnecessary death from infections and growing antimicrobial resistance. No wonder, the country has been witness to eight new infections in recent times.Reports indicate that 30 new infections have been detected worldwide in the last three decades, accounting for 26% of annual deaths worldwide. If such is the pace with which infections are growing, why is drug development lagging behind?

Davies offers a shocking answer: "because companies can no longer make enough money out of antimicrobial drugs to justify investing in research needed". It can cost over $1 billion to develop a new medicine, meaning that drug companies are very careful about what areas to research. Currently, the return on investment is likely to be much higher for other therapeutic areas, such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

This is because the treatment for chronic diseases can last for months or years as opposed to relatively short courses for antimicrobialNew drugs are likely to have a shortened shelf-life, failing to recover the huge investment made in researching the new drug. The World Health Organisation has also warned that an infectious disease crisis of global proportions is threatening hard-won gains in health and life expectancy. Infectious diseases are now the world's biggest killer of children and young adults. They account for more than 13 million deaths a year - one in two deaths in developing countries.

The only way to pull out of the crises, according to Davies, is to make drug innovation financially attractive. If a $10 million Ansari X Prize can be created to stimulate research on new generation of space launch vehicle, setting up a $50 million prize for anyone discovering a new class of antimicrobial drugs can surely go a long way towards saving millions of people from the danger of emerging infections.

As Davies warns, 'if we fail to develop new drugs fast enough, people will start dying from the most commonplace of infections in the years ahead.'....Link

The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat
by Dame Sally C. Davies
Penguin, UK
Extent: 112. Price: £3.39

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