Superbugs like carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, could kill more people than all cancers combined by 2050 if antibiotic overuse trends continue, according to a new report led by former Goldman Sacs economist Jim O’Neill.
Could Superbugs Become Deadlier Than Cancer?
The ‘Review on Antimicrobial Resistance’ was commissioned by the British Government over concerns about antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” like CRE, E. coli, malaria and tuberculosis. The report’s conclusions, which were based on research by RAND Europe and KPMG, suggest that if current trends continue, superbug infections will cause 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
Antibiotic use around the world is rising, while at the same time the number of new antibiotics is falling. If superbugs become resistant to all of these medications, people of working age will be affected, and once treatable diseases will become incurable.
New antibiotics take time and money to develop, and are less effective the more they are used. As a result, many pharmaceutical companies have focused their efforts on developing other types of drugs.
“There can be no doubt now that antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest (risks) that we, all of us, face,” said Nick Stern, president of the British Academy, professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics, and former chief economist of the World Bank. “The work of the group led by Jim O’Neill is of profound importance and this paper shows very convincingly the great scale of the risks, in terms of human lives and the economy, that are posed by this deeply worrying phenomenon.”
Antibiotics are routinely used as part of many common medical treatments, but these procedures could become more dangerous if antibiotics become ineffective.
O’Neill, who coined the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to describe rapidly emerging economies, warned that the developing world would be hardest hit by uncontrollable superbugs. Countries at the highest risk include India, Nigeria and Indonesia (from malaria), and Russia (from tuberculosis).
David Cameron, Prime Minister of the U.S., has warned of a new “dark ages of medicine” if the problem is not solved.
CRE Outbreak Reports Filed Late with FDA
Reports alerting health officials about contaminated endoscopes suspected of passing the CRE superbug during several recent outbreaks were received late or not at all, according to USA Today. Device manufacturers are required to file Medical Device Reports (MDRs) with the FDA within 30 days of learning that a product may pose safety risks. However, in at least 8 recent outbreaks of drug-resistant bacteria linked to duodenoscopes, the agency wasn’t aware of the problem until long after it was over, and in some cases disclosures were never made.