David Cameron and Xi Jinping Ju Peng/ZumaPress

Wasted Drugs and the Creation of Superbugs

The G-7 countries' health ministers recently agreed to tackle antimicrobial resistance. An especially promising target is drug wastage: By lowering the exposure of bacteria to drugs, we can slow the rise of drug resistance and keep our current medicines useful for longer.

LONDON – This week, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new fund to support research aimed at tackling the problem of so-called superbugs: disease-causing microbes that have become resistant to conventional drugs. It was a hugely rewarding moment for me personally as the chair of an independent review that has been calling for the creation of an innovation fund to address antimicrobial resistance since February. More important, it is a major step toward a real solution to this global problem, one that demonstrates the vital role that emerging-economy scientific and commercial innovation can play, especially when China takes the lead.

The announcement complements a meeting in Berlin earlier this month at which the health ministers of the G-7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – sought solutions to the most pressing global health issues. One vital outcome was a shared commitment to tackle antimicrobial resistance, “first, by improving infection prevention and control; second, by conserving the effectiveness of existing and future antimicrobials; and third, by engaging in research to optimize such approaches and to develop new antimicrobials, vaccines, treatment alternatives, and rapid diagnostic tools.”

These are the right objectives. But they can be effective only if most of the world works toward them simultaneously; after all, drug resistance, like microbes, does not stop for border checks. Here, the greatest responsibility lies with the G-20 countries – and especially its emerging-economy members – which both suffer the most from drug-resistant infections and can do the most to solve the problem.

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