Antibiotic-resistant disease threatens to enter United Kingdom, professor warns
Effects would be gradual - but medical authorities would soon be over their head
The director of the Wellcome Trust, Professor Jeremy Farrar has issued a sober warning about newly antibiotic-resistant infections and the threat they pose to the United Kingdom. He says that these new strains have reached a tipping point, and could easily enter the U.K., whereupon medical authorities would swiftly be over their head in new infections.
In response to the new threats posed by these infections, Professor Jeremy Farrar calls for more imaginative ways to increase incentives for the pharmaceutical industry.
Working in Vietnam for the past 18 years, Farrar says that he has a wealth of experience to drug-resistant drugs. They typically took the shape of tuberculosis that had spread from patients' lungs to their brain.
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"This is happening now," Farrar told radio journalists. "It's been happening for the last decade or so or more and it will continue to happen. What we will see is people actually spending longer in hospital, patients getting sicker and having complications and dying and it will creep up on us almost without us noticing.
"This will not be the sort of contagion-like event of somebody landing from Hong Kong in London with a pneumonia that is emerging that we've all feared. This will creep up on us insidiously, and of course that's in many ways more difficult to cope with."
Farrar warns that the "golden age" of antibiotics has long since passed. Complacency within the medical community took hold in the 1970s and 1980s at a time when there could have been more investment. Antibiotics then could have been used better, for example in combinations, to prevent the development of resistance to them.
"We're watching evolution happening," he said. "The viruses, the parasites have a pressure put on them from the drugs. They want to respond to that by surviving and not being killed by these antibiotics so therefore they evolve in ways that make them resistant."
Twenty years ago there had been 18 companies in the commercial sector working in the field of antibiotics, Farrar says. Now there are just four, and consequently only five new classes of antibiotics had emerged in the past 10 years.
In response to the new threats posed by these infections, Farrar calls for more imaginative ways to increase incentives for the pharmaceutical industry. He suggests changes to patents and for regulation around clinical trials to be eased.
"No government can do this on its own because this is a truly global issue," he said. "This is getting to the tipping point where you will start to see this in you and your families and we will start to see this not in infections many, many miles away but here in London."
It's an issue of pressing urgency. Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies warned about an "apocalyptic scenario" where people going for simple operations in 20 years' time would die of routine infections "because we have run out of antibiotics."
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