Big Pharma coalition to take on superbugs

Pharmaceutical companies have formed a new coalition to monitor the industry’s progress in fighting antibiotic resistance, the biggest public health crisis facing the world today.

The new AMR Industry Alliance brings together different companies within the life sciences industry and will set targets to ensure they are honouring commitments made in two agreements last year: the Industry Declaration on AMR and the Industry roadmap.

As part of those agreements, companies and trade organisations promised to improve global access to drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines; invest in the research and development of new drugs and stop drug factories releasing antibiotics into the environment.

The latter is an under-reported area which the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been covering since September 2016 when we revealed NHS trusts are buying antibiotics from companies whose lax manufacturing may be allowing superbugs to breed. We also found there are no regulations to stop this happening. Tests showed there were resistant bacteria in samples taken outside factories in India which supply global pharmaceutical companies with antibiotics.

This month we reported on another study published in the peer reviewed scientific journal Infection in which scientists performed more tests outside different Indian factories and found alarmingly high levels of the drugs made inside them, as well as superbugs. The authors concluded poor wastewater management seems to lead to the formation of multi-drug resistant bacteria.

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The new alliance was launched by the International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), at last week's B20 Health Conference in Berlin. It told the Bureau a working group will now be formed whose first task is to create targets for reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing.

An IFPMA spokesperson said some companies are already leading by example and this would ‘offer a space for other companies to learn and take action’. However she admitted companies signing up will be self-reporting and it has not yet been decided if they will have to provide any concrete proof that they are environmentally responsible in practice.

Changing Markets, a group which has campaigned on the topic of antibiotics in the environment, called the announcement ‘disappointing’ and said pharmaceutical companies are paying lip service to the issue while failing to propose serious measures to tackle the problem.

The alliance will produce its first progress report in January 2018.