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Antibiotic-resistant infections are killing tens of thousands each year, and no new classes of antibiotics have been developed in over 25 years. British PM David Cameron announced a panel that will tackle this very serious threat.

"I think this is a very serious threat. We are in danger of going back to the dark ages of medicine — to see infections that were treatable not be treatable and to see many thousands of people potentially die from these infections. It's a very, very serious problem."

Post-Antibiotic World 'Not Some Distant Threat'

We're talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, of course, and a world in which antibiotics no longer work. You have heard these warnings before. After hearing them too many times, stories about a post-antibiotic Earth might start to sound just like one of the many dystopian movies that have been appearing recently.

You might even think the quote above comes from some mentally unstable conspiracy theorist. It didn't. Those words were spoken by British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the threat of a world without antibiotics is very real indeed. 

"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," Cameron emphasized. 

Strains of tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia and gonorrhoea have already become completely resistant to all currently available antibiotics, and the "supberbug" MRSA alone is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. This is indeed happening right now. The positive news is that world leaders are taking this thread very seriously.

Thankfully, Cameron isn't just predicting doom. He announced the formation of a new global group that will work to find solutions to antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as working to develop new antibiotics. In addition, Cameron talked about addressing the problem of overusing antibiotics, a practice that encourages resistance. 

Tackling The Problem Of Antibiotic Resistance

Because antibiotic resistance is a problem that will affect every country in the world, it's something that has to be dealt with globally, Cameron points out. The British PM said he discussed the panel with G7 colleagues in Brussels, and got support specifically from US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Where does Britain fit into this picture? "Penicillin was a great British invention by Alexander Fleming back in 1928," Cameron reminds us. "It's good that Britain is taking the lead on this issue to solve what could otherwise be a really serious global health problem."

The new panel will be lead by Economist Jim O'Neill, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, and will include experts from science, finance, industry, and global health. Why should an economist lead a panel that could turn out to be essential to safeguarding global health? "There is actually a development problem, a market failure," Cameron said.

No new classes of antibiotics have been developed for over 25 years, and it's necessary to give pharmaceutical companies the incentive to work on this. Meanwhile, scientists and medical experts will investigate how to best deal with infections that are mutating to become resistant to antibiotics. 

O'Neill described his new job as a "a very exciting challenge", and the team already started working. The O'Neill Commission is going to present its initial findings next year, with a final report due a in 2016.

This is an exciting challenge indeed, and one that might just save the world. 

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