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What is AMR?

Antimicrobials

Antimicrobials are drugs used to prevent and treat infections caused by a variety of microbes – including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites - in humans, animals and plants. Antimicrobials include antibiotics (which target bacteria), antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics.

Antibiotics are the best-known form of antimicrobials, and are a cornerstone of modern medicine. These medicines are very commonly used to treat bacterial infections in humans and animals which even in the recent past could have been fatal- and allow many medical procedures such as hip replacements and cancer treatments to take place safely. The work of the IOI mainly focuses on antibiotics.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

AMR occurs when microorganisms - bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites - develop the ability to resist the action of medicines that would otherwise kill them or prevent their growth.

AMR is a natural - but worrying - phenomenon that happens as a result of evolution. Microbes can acquire the ability to resist the effects of antimicrobials, for example by developing ways to destroy the drugs, and then reproduce to pass these traits on. This can lead to drug-resistant organisms - commonly called “superbugs”.

AMR threatens public health significantly because infections become hard to control and common treatments - such as chemotherapy, organ transplants and other major surgeries - can become too risky to undertake routinely.

The burden of AMR

Current data suggest that drug-resistant infections are a leading cause of death around the world, linked to around 4.95 million deaths a year.

It is also estimated that AMR can have a global economic cost of $100tn by 2050, disproportionately affecting low and middle-income countries. This could plunge 24 million people into extreme poverty.

Click the link on the right to learn more about how the IOI contributed to the most comprehensive estimates of the global burden of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to date, and how our research is helping to address the major public health problem posed by resistance to antibiotics.

The drivers of AMR

While AMR is a natural process, it has been accelerated by the global misuse of drugs - especially antibiotics. Three examples of this are:

  • Unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans. This occurs when antibiotics are used to treat conditions that do not require them, such as viral infections
  • Stopping a course of antibiotics before the treatment is complete. This allows the strongest bacteria still surviving to replicate and pass on their resistant qualities to the resisting bacteria. As a result, the infection being treated may persist and could be passed on to other people
  • Putting antibiotics in animal feed to promote growth and prevent infections in agriculture. While it is important for farmers to ensure that groups of animals don’t suffer from illness, unnecessary overuse allows microbes to develop resistance to common drugs- and those drugs used in animals are the same used to protect human lives

Crucially, the rate at which we have developed antimicrobial medicines - particularly antibiotics - has recently slowed down substantially. We urgently need to scale up our efforts, to manage our existing antibiotic treatments better and develop new ones.

The need for new antibiotics

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were only 27 new antibiotics in clinical development against priority pathogens in 2021.

As explained by Dr. Hanan Balkhy, WHO Assistant Director-General on AMR: “This presents a serious challenge to overcoming the escalating pandemic of antimicrobial resistance and leaves every one of us increasingly vulnerable to bacterial infections including the simplest infections.”

Click the link on the right to learn more about how the IOI contributed to the discovery of a new potential treatment that has the ability to reverse antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause conditions such as sepsis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections.

Solutions to tackle AMR

AMR is one of the most complex and multifaceted global health challenges today. The next few years will define the trajectory of the long-term global AMR response and how successful it can be.

The thought of a future without effective antimicrobials is grim, but unless we tackle the threat of AMR urgently, everyday medical procedures such as childbirth, surgeries, and even day to day accidents such as cuts and scrapes could carry high risk of fatality.

Today, this is almost unthinkable - but could quickly become inevitable without renewed efforts to rapidly advance research, education and collaboration in search of solutions to tackle the growing threat of AMR.

Click the links below to learn more about how the IOI is contributing to address the global health problem of AMR.

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Our research

Find out more about AMR

Antibiotic resistance

A factsheet from the WHO on antibiotic resistance

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The global burden of AMR in 2019

This study, published in the Lancet in 2022, presents the most comprehensive estimates of AMR burden to date.

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The review on AMR

This report outlines the final recommendations of "The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)", where economist Jim O’Neill analyses the global problem of rising drug resistance and proposes concrete actions to tackle it internationally.

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Antibacterial agents in clinical and preclinical development

This 2021 report from the WHO presents an overview and analysis of antibacterial agents in clinical and preclinical development.

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