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Antimicrobial resistance - Time to behave like a real Ostrich

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As a race we tend to behave like ostriches and bury our heads in the sand when problems or danger arises. Our attitude is often one of it won’t affect me, until the evidence is so clear that we become concerned for our children.

Those of a certain age grew up with a gut–feeling that smoking was probably not good for them but continued to do so until conclusive evidence proved this to be the case. For many people it was too late.  My grandfather’s 60-a day habit got the better of him, even though he stopped smoking, but only after the realisation of how much money he was saving because he wasn’t allowed to smoke in hospital.

We were warned about global warming.  Again, it took some time before the population really took it seriously and even now there are some deniers.  In both cases we needed to act earlier for the good of our health and the subsequent cost it is still brings.

Man with his head in a hole in the ground in an ostrich like fashion.

What is Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

AMR is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication and in the case of bacteria it means that antibiotics stop working. It threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.

What effect does AMR have?

It is estimated that over 700,000 people die each year across the world from drug resistant infections.

By 2050 this will be 10,000,000.  Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery become very high risk.

In the UK, sepsis (caused by bacterial infection) causes over 44,000 deaths each year; more than from lung cancer (35,000) and bowel cancer (16,000). Many of these sepsis deaths are due to untreatable antibiotic resistant infections. If there were no new antibiotics, then any infections become untreatable. 

Business man holding a handkerchief coughing.

Time to behave like an ostrich!

Of course, it is a myth that ostriches bury their heads in the ground at the sign of danger.  Rather they stand and face it head on.   Advances in technology are improving the ability to treat patients in the National Health Service (NHS) but this increases costs.  In my mind, we need to react more like ostriches NOW when it comes to AMR.  Otherwise the advances in medicine will not deliver their real impact and cost to the NHS will go up.

Ostrich face looking directly into the camera.

Investment is required

There are a number of national and international AMR research initiatives underway, not only looking for new antibiotics but the production of new diagnostics, prevention and behavioural solutions.  However, these are relatively small compared to funds spent on the likes of cancer research.  I would suggest that we need to invest much more in research, but there are much larger problems when it comes to exploiting research into new capabilities.  These are largely market driven.

Governments are key

Pharmaceutical companies cannot see how they can make money from antibiotics. The development costs for new drugs are huge and given that antibiotics are prescribed for just a short course of treatment and sales are very limited compared to the likes of cancer treatments, many of the large pharmaceutical companies have closed down their antibiotic operation.   In addition, governments hold down the price of antibiotics, leaving little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in research.  This aggravated by the fact that a new antibiotic is likely to be reserved only for use in treating resistant infections.

Governments must now come up with a new business model to help resolve this problem.

Red megaphone with the words 'Act now' coming out.

We need to act now

So, we have a big challenge ahead.  As for smoking and global warming, full understanding of AMR both scientifically and by the public follows an exponential curve.  The development of solution follows a similar curve.  However, if the two curves start at a similar point in time, the impact on society of the problem will be less.  However, if we don’t start until we fully understand the problem, the more costly and delayed the solutions will be. Just look at smoking.

Apply now

To help this, I would like to point you in the direction of an Innovate UK AMR call in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology now open.  The aim is to support novel projects that neither country would be able to conduct within the same timeframe without the other’s expertise. These should develop new products or services against antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Where appropriate, they should include clinical evaluation.

Applications must be industry led. The call closes in the UK on 6th June.

Further information and details of how to apply can be found at: and

Hand holding a card with the wording 'APPLY NOW'


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