Drug-Resistant “Superbugs” Could Become Deadlier Than Cancer, U.K. Leader Warns

Annual death rate may reach 10 million people by 2050

Antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics will present a greater danger to mankind than cancer by the middle of the century unless world leaders agree on international action to tackle the threat, according to George Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Osborne told a panel of experts at a meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., that 10 million people a year could die around the world by 2050––more than the number of people lost to cancer every year––without immediate action.

Osborne warned that failing to act will have an “enormous economic” impact. By 2050, he said, antimicrobial resistance could reduce the global gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 3.5%, at a cumulative cost of $100 billion.

“Unless we take global action, antimicrobial resistance will become an even greater threat to mankind than cancer currently is,” the chancellor said. “It is not just a health problem but an economic one, too. The cost of doing nothing, both in terms of lives lost and money wasted, is too great, and the world needs to come together to agree on a common approach.”

Osborne called on leaders to shift incentives to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics. He also urged improvements in diagnostics to curb the use of unnecessary antibiotics to fight infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also sounded the alarm about drug-resistant bacteria. In March, the CDC identified six bacteria considered to be the most deadly threats: carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae; methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae (extended-spectrum beta-lactamases); vancomycin-resistant enterococci; multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas; and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter. One in seven catheter- and surgery-related health care-associated infections (HAIs) in acute-care hospitals, and one in four catheter- and surgery-related HAIs in long-term acute-care hospitals, are caused by any of these six resistant bacteria, according to the CDC. In addition, Clostridium difficile is the most common type of bacteria responsible for infections in hospitals. Most C. difficile is not resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it, but antibiotic use puts patients at high risk for deadly diarrhea.

Sources: FierceHealthcare; April 18, 2016; The Guardian; April 14, 2016; and CDC; March 3, 2016.