Drug resistant superbugs could emerge bigger killers than cancer by 2050: study

11 December 2014

A UK government-commissioned review said drug-resistant superbugs could kill 10 million people a year and cost up to $100 trillion by 2050 if their rampant global spread was not halted, Reuters reported.

Such infections have already killed hundreds of thousands of people a year and the trend was growing, the review said, adding, "The importance of effective antimicrobial drugs cannot be overplayed."

Drug resistant infections are currently implicated in 700,000 deaths world wide each year.

According to former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill, who led the work, in Europe and the US alone around 50,000 deaths were being reported each year from infections caused by superbug forms of bacteria such as E coli.

O'Neill was appointed by the UK's prime minister David Cameron in July to head a review of antimicrobial resistance.

"Unless something is done by 2050, that number could become 10 million people losing their lives each year from then onwards," he told a briefing in London.

On the $100 trillion estimated cost, O'Neill told BBC, "To put that in context, the annual GDP [gross domestic product] of the UK was about $3 trillion, so this would be the equivalent of around 35 years without the UK contribution to the global economy."

The review excluded the indirect effects of increasing drug resistance which could "cast medicine back to the dark ages", according to the review, by making routine procedures more dangerous.

Though the problem of infections developing resistance to such drugs had been a feature of medicine since Alexander Fleming's discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, in the UK in 1928, it had worsened in recent years as multi-drug-resistant bugs had developed and drug companies had cut investments due to unprofitability.


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