Antibiotic cupboard is bare, says Chief Medical Officer

Prof. Dame Sally Davies, CMO web The ‘empty’ antibiotic pipeline threatens a future of mass death from antibiotic-resistant infections, the UK Chief Medical Officer has said.

Professor Dame Sally Davies told a Parliamentary committee that the pharmaceutical industry has no solutions to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Overuse of antibiotics, especially in the developing world, and the combined impact of sex tourism and medical tourism were globalising the most serious health threats, the committee heard.

Antibiotic resistance has been recognised as a problem in Europe for decades, with the power of the standard antibiotics to fight disease steadily waning.

However, the massive current use of antibiotics in countries such as India, where private drug supply is deregulated, has caused a proliferation of drug-resistant infections that are spreading through the developed world.

Professor Davies warned: “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.”

Antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis and gonorrhoea are spreading globally, she said. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is failing to develop new antibiotics because there is no urgent need for them – but when there is, it may be too late to prevent a lethal pandemic.

GSK’s CEO, Andrew Witty, made the same point last year and warned that “the market has failed” to address the danger. He called for global collaboration between health systems and industry.

“There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics, so it’s an empty pipeline, so as they become resistant, these bugs… there will not be new antibiotics to come,” said Professor Davies.