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How bugs become superbugs
00:58 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Drug-resistant superbugs are as big a threat to the world as climate change or wars, Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned during a speech at Davos in which he unveiled a five-year action plan for the UK, and a 20-year vision, to tackle the threat of antimicrobial resistance by 2040.

“I could not look my children in the eyes unless I knew I was doing all in my power to solve this great threat,” Matt Hancock said during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Thursday.

“I shudder at the thought of a world in which their (antibiotics’) power is diminished. Antimicrobial resistance is a big danger to humanity and is as big a danger as climate change or warfare.”

Antibiotics are used to prevent bacterial infections related to a range of medical problems and procedures, such as surgery, but overusing them can lead to the bacteria becoming resistant. This has led to the development of superbugs – bacteria that have become resistant to the main antibiotics used against them – which present a major threat to global healthcare.

Scientists believe that around 70% of bacteria that cause infections are already resistant to at least one antibiotic that would otherwise be used to combat it.

New drugs

As part of a new 5-year plan in the UK, Hancock announced that the government will offer pharmaceutical companies incentives to develop “urgently needed” new drugs.

Current models mean companies are incentivized to sell as many antibiotics as possible at a time when the world is trying to reduce antibiotic use.

Low returns on investment in developing drugs also mean the pharmaceutical “industry does not innovate enough and as a result, very few of the new drugs that are currently in the pipeline are targeted towards priority infections,” according to a press release from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care.

The UK’s National Health Service will also explore new payment models that focus on drugs of most value to the health system, such as drugs to treat infections already showing resistance.

“Under the current market system, companies are paid for the number of drugs they produce rather than how valuable the drugs are to the NHS,” the department wrote.

Work to introduce a new payment model will be underway within six months, said Hancock, adding that this will encourage companies to invest in the “estimated £1 billion needed to develop a new drug.”

“The increase in antibiotic resistance is a threat we cannot afford to ignore. It is vital that we tackle the spread of drug-resis