Anand Anandkumar PhD
Co-founder and CEO, Bugworks Research Inc (USA, India)
Antibiotics have shaped the way we prevent and treat bacterial infections, however without quick interventions required in the field, we could be on the cusp of losing the battle to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the silent pandemic.
It all started in 1928 with Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin. Antibiotics changed humanity more than any other innovation of the 20th century. Over the coming decades, what followed was the ‘golden age’ of antibiotic innovation and society prematurely claimed that we had won the infection battle.
Today we know that the world faces a huge challenge in not having enough solutions against antimicrobial resistance (AMR). According to the UK government sponsored O’Neill report of 2016, AMR takes more than 700,000 lives every year and that if left unchecked could take up to 10 million lives in a couple of decades. This would have major devastating effects on low to medium income countries (LMICs). The UN and WHO reports also paint a dire picture: by 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people, in LMICs, into extreme poverty.
The parallels between AMR and COVID-19
COVID-19 has clearly shown how unprepared we are as a humanity and offers the perfect preamble to an AMR driven pandemic scenario. There have been 1.2 million deaths globally, with an estimated loss of global GDP around 8 trillion USD. It is estimated that 15% of the COVID-19 deaths are due to secondary infection caused by resistant bacteria. Viruses and bacteria hunt in pairs!
The numerous trails of helpless immigrant labour walking back home across the Indian subcontinent, when India announced its total lockdown to deal with COVID-19, presented a lasting image, the “shadow trailer” of the impending disaster owing to AMR. To offset the repeat of this scenario, what is required is a coordinated global initiative to both protect existing solutions and to invest in urgently needed diagnostics and antibacterial therapies.
World leaders, particularly those in LMICs, need to treat AMR as a ‘critical medical infrastructure’, and commit resources to promote and sustain innovation in this space. Not doing so will result in death and economic destruction far worse than what we’re currently witnessing!