Cameron enlists ex-Goldman economist in global superbug fight

an image of the Reuters logo(Reuters) – Prime Minister David Cameron called on Wednesday for global action to tackle the threat of drug-resistant superbugs and said Britain planned to take a leading role in finding ways to spur the development of new antibiotics.

A world without effective antibiotics would push medicine back into the “dark ages”, he said, with routine surgery, treatments for cancer and organ transplants potentially becoming impossible.

Cameron announced an independent review led by former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill to pinpoint the problems and identify why so few new antibiotics are being developed.

O’Neill, who described the job as “a very exciting challenge”, will bring together experts from around the world, reflecting the global nature of the superbug threat.

Cameron said he had discussed the issue at a G7 summit of leaders in Brussels last month and won specific support for the initiative from U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again,” he said in a statement.

“With some 25,000 people a year already dying from infections resistant to antibiotic drugs in Europe alone, this is not some distant threat but something happening right now.”

The O’Neill Commission will set out a plan for encouraging and accelerating antibiotic development, looking into ways to pay drugmakers for producing antibiotics even if they are rarely used. It is due to present its initial findings in 2015, with a final report a year later.

It is being hosted and funded by the Wellcome Trust charity in London, which is contributing 500,000 pounds to the project.

The initiative is the latest example of Cameron giving Britain a leadership role in global health – a strategy that dovetails with his government’s desire to make the country a hub for medical and life science research. Last December, Cameron held a global summit in London on dementia.

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