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UN Declaration Should Be Another Nail in the Coffin of AMR

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Prominent Russian economist, and former economic advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Abel Gyozevich Aganbegyan once declared: “You only find complete unanimity in a cemetery.” Not so – if the UN’s reaffirmation of its resolve to tackle anti-microbial resistance, announced this week at its High Level Meeting on AMR, is anything to go by. In fact – and somewhat ironically – it is the very commitment of all 193 member states to work at national, regional, and global levels on this issue that should help reverse the increasing death toll and save people from an early grave.

In the press briefing that preceded the High Level Meeting, Keiji Fukuda, the Assistant Director-General and UN Special Representative for Antimicrobial Resistance mentioned that it was an “unusual act for the [general] assembly to discuss a health issue”. Inaction is not an option, he continued, otherwise by 2050 “we will have more people dying as a result of antibiotic resistance than currently die from cancer”.

The UN’s recognition of the severity of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves and its unabated determination to stifle AMR is to be applauded. It is acting on several fronts simultaneously, including: developing multisectoral, national action plans, programs and policy initiatives; mobilising adequate, predictable and sustained funding and human and financial resources and investment; initiating, increasing and sustaining awareness and knowledge-raising activities on AMR; supporting a One Health approach to address AMR; and calling on the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to finalise a global development and stewardship framework.

Far from sitting idly by, the pharmaceutical industry has been at the forefront of the fightback against AMR. Within the framework of the Innovative Medicines Initiative – the world’s largest public-private partnership in the life sciences sector – “New Drugs for Bad Bugs” (ND4BB) represents an unprecedented partnership between industry, academia and biotech organisations to combat antibiotic resistance in Europe by tackling the scientific, regulatory, and business challenges that are hampering the development of new antibiotics.

Financed to the tune of some €700 million, it houses seven AMR-specific projects, that include: getting drugs into bugs (and keeping them there); creating a drug-discovery platform for antibiotics; taking on the most dangerous resistant bacteria; and establishing a pan-European network of clinical sites.

On 21 January this year, industry launched a joint declaration, together with the biotechnology and diagnostics industries on combatting AMR at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Originally drafted, agreed and signed by 85 companies and nine industry associations, these numbers were boosted to a total of 98 companies and 11 industry associations in 21 countries by 1 April 2016.

All the signatory companies called on governments to work with them to develop new and alternative market structures to provide more dependable and sustainable market models for antibiotics, and to commit the funds needed to implement them.

The Davos Declaration has been launched to show industry’s commitment to tackle anti-microbial resistance. Guarding against criticism that there potentially was something of a chasm between words and actions, industry continued working on further actions based on the Davos Declaration.

Yesterday, thirteen leading pharmaceutical companies published an Industry Roadmap to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance, to coincide with the UN High-Level meeting. The Roadmap underscores our ambition and commitment to reducing antimicrobial resistance and the threat it represents for society, for our economies, and for our citizens. It also outlines how we intend to work towards improving access to high-quality antibiotics, vaccines, and diagnostics, through collaborating closely with governments, international bodies, and a myriad of other important stakeholders, in order to sustain investment and achieve our common goal of fighting AMR.

We’re also keeping up the political momentum at EU level. Most recently, on 16 September, we sent a joint open letter, together with the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) to the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressing regret that his “State of the Union Address” did not devote more attention to Europe’s role in protecting and improving health. In it we called specifically on the European Union to publish urgently the follow up to the European AMR Action Plan of 2011, which is set to expire in November. We further highlighted the need for appropriate resources and governance in order, from 2016, for the updated plan to respond adequately and appropriately to the scale and urgency of the challenge.

So in this context, the UN’s unanimous reaffirmation of its commitment to tackling AMR should not be viewed in isolation, but more as an important cog in the wheel of a greater and more collaborative approach to what WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, referred to as “a slow-motion tsunami”.

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