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Urgent action is needed to tackle antibiotic resistance, experts say

Urgent action is needed to tackle antibiotic resistance, or more people will die from what were previously treatable infections. This is the stark message from a new report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) entitled 'Tackling antibacterial resistance ...

Urgent action is needed to tackle antibiotic resistance, or more people will die from what were previously treatable infections. This is the stark message from a new report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) entitled 'Tackling antibacterial resistance in Europe'. The report, which builds on two previous reports on infectious diseases from the same group, identifies the major challenges and opportunities for policy development to tackle antibacterial drug resistance. Since they were first introduced in the 1930s, antibiotics have saved the lives of countless people and lead to improvements in public health. However, these advances are now being undermined by the spread of bacteria which have developed resistance to antimicrobial drugs. There are already cases where antibiotics are simply no longer effective. 'The general trend to more widespread antibiotic resistance is relentless and, if it continues unabated, deaths from what were previously treatable infections will occur with increasing frequency,' the report warns. Hospital-acquired infections already account for 175,000 deaths a year in Europe, many of which can be attributed to antibiotic resistance. The problem does not just concern hospitals and patients; businesses are affected when employees are off sick, and there is the danger that drug-resistant bugs could get into the food chain via livestock. 'Our concern is that the European policy makers are not doing enough to stimulate the development of new antibacterial drugs and encourage the sharing of information between member states,' said Professor Volker ter Meulen of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences, Germany, who chaired the group of experts which compiled the report. 'This is vital to identify patterns and tackle resistance.' Measures which could address the problem in the short term include better awareness of the issues; improved surveillance; wiser use of antibiotics and containing the spread of resistance. However, in the longer term, research and development are key to tackling the issue. A major priority identified by the experts is the development of diagnostic tools which are sensitive, simple and cheap to use at the point of care and able to differentiate between a range of pathogens. 'There is an urgent need for improved diagnosis in clinical practice,' the experts write. 'This requires R&D [research and development] for highly innovative approaches based on the resolving power and rapidity of molecular analysis.' The experts also highlight the need to strengthen the science base in both basic and clinical research. In particular, links between universities and their associated hospital microbiology services should be strengthened. The authors of the report also call for greater input from the social sciences. 'Behavioural, health, economics and other social sciences need to be more involved with studies concerning antibiotic usage and infection control,' they write. 'There have been insufficient studies as antimicrobial resistance has, until now, been seen as a purely medical issue. This needs to change.' Thanks to previous discussions between the European Commission and the research community, many of the research priorities identified by EASAC are set to receive funding under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the experts note. The role of industry is also emphasised in the report, and the experts ask policy makers to offer better support to companies working to develop new drugs. 'The generation of new antibiotics is a lengthy, expensive and complex process,' the report reads. 'It is important to address the current impediments to innovation [...] by facilitating public-private partnerships and rationalising regulatory requirements so as to encourage development without compromise to safety and efficacy.' The experts welcome in particular the European Technology Platform Innovative Medicines Initiative, and they call on Member States to support the Commission proposal to turn it into a Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) which could attract new sources of funding. The authors of the report leave no doubt as to the seriousness of the issue. 'The initiatives must be implemented now because the battle against antibiotic resistance is being lost,' they write. 'Complacency and delay will have major detrimental effects on future European public health.'

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