Urgent action must be taken to address the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, according to a new paper released by the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) today.

‘Meeting the threat of antibiotic resistance: Building a new frontline defence’ outlines the scale of the threat and the consequences of dwindling commercial investment in antibiotic research and development worldwide.

“There is now a genuine threat of humanity returning to an era where mortality due to common infections is rife,” the paper states.

“Nothing short of a global revival in antibiotics R&D is required… it is critically important that we build up a new arsenal of effective treatments and diagnostic tools to combat resistance in the longer term.”

The misuse and over-use of antibiotics have accelerated the development of antibiotic resistance. Examples include using antibiotics as growth promoters in animals and prescribing antibiotics for what is probably a viral infection.

The paper states the problem has been further exacerbated by the collapse of the antibiotic discovery pipeline.

“Only one antibiotic that works in a novel way, has been discovered and developed for use in humans, in the last 50 years,” the paper states.

“Most companies have now either abandoned the field or are in the process of reducing their commitment. Whilst some cancer medicines are sold for $20,000 a course, we still expect to pay $20 for a course of antibiotics.”

According to Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan: “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The public health implications for Australia are especially serious considering the rising number of drug-resistant infections acquired within the community, previously confined to health-care facilities, as well as those acquired during international travel.

According to Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, antibiotic resistance is an important scientific issue for the Australian public.

“Antibiotic resistance has the potential to become one of the world’s biggest public health challenges, requiring a serious response from our scientists, our industries and the community at large,” Professor Chubb said.

The paper is the seventh in the OCS’ Occasional Paper series. It was discussed at the most recent meeting of Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.

Download the paper here.

Download the reference list here.