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Study estimates death toll of antibiotic-resistant bacteria - Warwick experts comment

A new Lancet study shows that over a million people died in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Here, Dr Freya Harrison and Dr Antonia Sagona of the School of Life Sciences comment on the importance of this new evidence and the need to tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance urgently.

Dr Antonia Sagona said: “The problem of antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat and especially now with the Covid crisis and the increased hospitalization of patients with weakened immune system, it has become even more prominent. Urgent measures need to be in place to prevent and tackle the problem. New alternatives to antibiotics are necessary, one of these is the use of bacteriophages, viruses that efficiently and specifically target multi resistant pathogenic bacteria.

“In our lab at the University of Warwick, we are working with bacteriophages that target MRSA and pathogenic E.coli (among other pathogenic bacteria) and in collaboration with clinicians, we are trying to establish in vitro, but with a focus on patients, novel therapies based on bacteriophages. Nowadays, many other labs in the world as well as our lab at Warwick, are studying the mechanisms of bacteriophages and phage therapy, in synergy with antibiotics in some cases, as a very promising solution to the problem of AMR.”

Dr Freya Harrison said: “This report is important because it really highlights the scale of the problem of antibiotic resistance. We depend on effective antibiotics for so many aspects of healthcare - surgery, chemotherapy for cancer and caesarian sections are just three examples of treatments that carry a big risk of infection and so rely on effective antibiotics to be safely offered to people. It is imperative that we invest in programmes to find new antibiotics and to develop ways of using antibiotics that don't put so much pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of incentive for drug companies to do this work, because it doesn't generate ready profits. Schemes like the UK government's "pull incentive" plan will go some way to helping incentivise antibiotic development in the private sector, but real long-term success in ensuring antibiotic security for the future will require sustained and coordinated investment from governments and intergovernmental organisations around the world.”

20 January 2022

University of Warwick press office contact:

Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics) | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick

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