In 2013, Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, warned that antibiotic resistance posed a threat to humanity. Without hard data to support her bold claim, that warning was largely ignored.
“One crucial thing that got the whole world to take climate change seriously was the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change back in 2006,” Davies told Wire.
Led by city economist Jim O’Neill, Davies decided to create her own ‘Stern report.’ That report revealed that 700,000 people were dying around the word from drug-resistant infections every year. 5,000 of them were in the UK.
“Those death rates will rise to ten million every year by 2050 unless we take action,” Davies warned. “That’ll cost the world economy between $60 and $100 trillion every year—roughly the size of the UK economy, wiping out growth across the world.”
Part of the problem is that the industry has not been delivering on new antibiotics to treat superbugs.
“There have been no new classes of antibiotics introduced to clinical practice since the 1980s,” she says. “There’s a great company in Cambridge called Discuva that has whole new groups of drugs, but it’s struggling to find investment.”
Companies conducting cancer research tend to take up most of those funds, but Davies believes this issue is bigger than that.
“For one thing, those cancer drugs don’t work without antibiotic support,” she told Wired.
She’s confident that additional research on the subject will change the way we think about antibiotics and their profitability. Building awareness and getting government and health service on board will be crucial to turning this around.