Why should you, and our federal government care about antimicrobial resistance?

The world wasn’t prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the steps policymakers could have taken to contain it, they could not have foreseen or prepared for the nature of the virus before it emerged as a threat. That is not the case with antimicrobial resistance (AMR), one of the World Health Organization’s top 10 global public health threats. But what is AMR and how can our federal government be at the forefront of this next health issue?

AMR occurs when bacteria develop the ability to resist the antibiotics designed to kill them. Instead of being resolved quickly with antibiotics, disease caused by antibiotic-resistant germs can lead to extended hospital stays, severe illness or even death.[1] One of the most concerning aspects of AMR is that common infections that were previously relatively simple to cure are now increasingly difficult to treat, like pneumonia or skin and soft tissue infections following a caesarian section. In some cases, health-care practitioners must use more costly and toxic treatments in place of the resisted antibiotics.

A recent study in The Lancet showed that in 2019, 1.27 million deaths were directly attributable to AMR, more than malaria and HIV.[2] In 2018 alone, AMR cost the Canadian healthcare system approximately $1.4 billion and was responsible for 5,400 lives lost in Canada.

Nearly all large pharmaceutical companies have been driven away from antibiotic R&D, and small companies in this space struggle to stay in business due to the significant investment required to develop these drugs, and the challenges with accurately assessing their value for reimbursement.

Between 2010 and 2019, 18 novel antibiotics were launched across 14 high-income countries. Only two of these antibiotics are available to Canadian patients.[3] A key barrier is how these medicines are reviewed by Canada’s health technology assessment (HTA) body CADTH, and how they are priced. The current methods do not account for the societal benefit novel antibiotics can offer — notably with respect to mitigating present and future AMR.

GSK, a biopharmaceutical company with over 70 years of experience fighting bacterial threats, has been a leader in acting to counter AMR, with a strong track record in developing cooperative solutions to help Canada lead the charge in the global fight against AMR. Ranya El-Masri, GSK Canada’s Vice-President and Head of Government Affairs and Market Access, believes now is the time for industry and governments to act decisively.

“COVID-19 has taught governments and innovators two critical lessons when it comes to tackling AMR and infectious disease across the board,” says El-Masri. “First, time is not on our side. For many, antibiotics may currently be effective, but we cannot afford to wait while resistance to antimicrobials continues to accelerate at pace. Second, we need to draw on the full gamut of our scientific firepower including antibiotics, vaccines, and other potential complementary interventions, like monoclonal antibodies for the benefit of patients and our healthcare systems.”

In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos to “work with partners to take increased and expedited action to monitor, prevent and mitigate the serious and growing threat of antimicrobial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of the antimicrobials Canadians rely upon every day.”[4]

And while some important investments have been made globally, Canada has not followed the AMR lead of other countries such as Great Britain, Sweden and Germany which have designed incentives — along with regulatory agility and accelerated timelines for reviews — that have facilitated access to novel antibiotics for their citizens to help slow the progression of AMR, all while fostering important diversity in the antibiotics pipeline.

AMR was a topic of discussion for both Health[5] and Finance[6] Ministers during May’s G7 Meetings, with a commitment to continue exploring and implementing pull incentives. This serves as a reminder that Canada is part of a global effort to eradicate the threat of AMR. Many in the health-care community believe now is the time to unleash made-in-Canada innovations and demonstrate leadership. The best path forward has policymakers and industry taking those steps together.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance
[2] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02724-0/fulltext#seccestitle200
[3] 5https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ ciab612
[4] https://pm.gc.ca/en/mandate-letters/2021/12/16/minister-health-mandate-letter
[5] 001096403.pdf (mhlw.go.jp)
[6] g7_20230513_2.pdf (mof.go.jp)


GlaxoSmithKline Inc. is a Member of Research Canada: An Alliance for Health Discovery and Sponsor of Research Canada’s 18th Annual General Meeting: Fulfilling the Promise of Collaborative Advocacy Leadership. Visit rc-rc.ca to learn more.