England’s chief medical officer is warning that the rising numbers of drug-resistant diseases will eventually lead to an “antibiotic apocalypse” — a not-too-distant future when there aren’t any cures for common infections — and more antibiotic research should be a top global health priority.
Professor Dame Sally Davies told members of Parliament on Wednesday that the world must begin addressing antibiotic resistance, since the treatments for common diseases like gonorrhea, E. coli, and penicillin are losing their effectiveness and new drugs aren’t being developed quickly enough to replace them. The emergence of “superbugs” that can’t be cured with modern medicine could soon undermine advances in disease research and treatment. Davies compared the issue of resistant viruses to the gravity of the world’s climate change crisis:
Davies said rapidly evolving resistance to antibiotics among bacteria is one of the greatest threats to modern health. “Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible — similar to global warming,” she said. “Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work.”
The warning comes six months after a similar call by Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organisation, who said the world faced the “end of modern medicine as we know it” as a result of the “global crisis in antibiotics”.
Davies said that even though she may not live to experience the full effects of global warming, the looming antibiotic crisis may threaten the health care system within the next few decades. “The apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years, I’ll die from a routine infection because we’ve run out of antibiotics,” she explained.
Antibiotic development has slowed in recent years, largely because marketing new drugs isn’t as profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. As Davies put it, there’s currently a “broken market model for making new antibiotics” that has led to “an empty pipeline.” The World Health Organization has called for the development of new antibiotic drugs, just four of the world’s 12 largest pharmaceutical companies are investing in researching new antibiotics.