Antibiotic Research UK has been working closely over the past few years with Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, on raising the issue of antibiotic resistance with government and ministers, as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a cause which he feels strongly about.
This month, ANTRUK sat down with Kevin Hollinrake MP, to discuss AMR, and what can be done to help tackle this pressing public health issue.
When did you first become aware of AMR and how did you find out about it?
Shortly after I became MP for Thirsk and Malton, I was approached by Colin Garner. At the time, I was vaguely aware of the difficulties of producing new antibiotics, but I’ve since come to realize what a huge issue it is.
While I recognised the dangers of AMR, I believed there would be an easy way to find a solution. But I discovered that the pharmaceutical industry wasn’t attempting to find a solution and I gradually came to the realisation that this was a huge problem and no one was working on it.
Upon doing some investigation into the topic, I was made aware that Lord Jim O’Neill had been charged with drafting the report on antimicrobial resistance. After reading the final report and being contacted by other people with an interest in this problem, I became more aware of the issues.
Together with Julian Sturdy, MP for York, and Jeremy Lefroy, MP for Stafford, we submitted a joint letter to the PM regarding AMR. In this letter, we talked about the difficulty surrounding commercial models of pharmaceuticals and how these might be solved. We have suggested a pay or play levy, changing the reimbursement model: if pharmaceutical companies can develop a new class of antibiotics, the government can guarantee them money. This was supposed to be piloted by end of 2016, but this hasn’t materialised.
Why have you chosen to take a particular interest in AMR?
AMR is high up in my priority list and it is something I fight for at all levels of government: not just within my local constituency, but at national and international levels as well.
AMR is an international problem and in terms of the problems the world is facing, antibiotic resistance is up there in top two or three, alongside climate change. It’s a global threat which should be much higher on everyone’s agenda.
Last year you met with the Prime Minister and the Health Minister at the time. Can you tell us a little more about this?
David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time, was fantastic and our conversation opened lots of doors very quickly. We began discussing AMR straight away, as well as the difficulties surrounding research-focused charities such as ANTRUK, and how these kinds of charities can be funded.
Mr Cameron was very interested and very aware of the issues surrounding antibiotics and so he agreed to write to Dame Sally Davis. We also arranged a meeting between ANTRUK, the Department of Health, and Public Health England.
What would you like the government to do to tackle the threat?
The government has promised a couple of things, such as the creation of an innovation fund. This would be set up specifically to provide solutions to bodies such as ANTRUK, but this would be a short-term solution to the problem. Opening that fund up to research applications was scheduled for the end of 2016, but it has yet to happen and I have no idea why there has been a delay, but it is something that the new PM needs to clarify.
We also need a register, like the register we have for MRSA, the superbug. Hospitals need to accurately ascertain which people died of what, and whether that condition was exacerbated by antibiotic resistant infection. If we could understand the true scale of the problem then we could raise awareness. Blood samples are already taken and tested for antibiotic resistance, but but they are not nearly as comprehensive as they could be.
Sepsis is a good example: some analysis recently claimed that 5000 every year die because of AMR. Doctors looked into this, and discovered that 12,000 were dying from drug-resistant sepsis alone. Health bodies, Public Health England, the NHS – whatever the most appropriate body may be – need to collate this kind of information and publish it. We need public services to do that. Something I am pressing the health minister on is to agree to provide data on antimicrobial resistance and its related deaths.
What are your thoughts on the work the charity is doing?
ANTRUK is doing fantastic work. One of the difficulties here is lack of advocacy on the whole topic of antibiotic resistance: if you ask people in street to name top global threats, AMR would not even be on the list. Even in Parliament, there is rarely talk about AMR.
ANTRUK has made AMR more visible, which is highlighted by the fact that the topic is being featured in news stories more regularly now. The charity has clear objectives and goals to become the leading spokespeople on this issue but it needs people to continue to donate and support it to achieve these goals.
What is your message to the public on AMR?
This is a huge problem that will reportedly kill 10 million people a year by 2050 if action is not taken now. AMR is killing a lot of people today and we cannot just tackle it alone in the UK. Instead, we have to tackle antibiotic resistance on an international scale.
AMR could become a pandemic – it’s a bleak picture but this is the reality. Unless we put more effort in, we are going to be far too late as new drugs can take a decade or two to develop. There’s a radio drama called Resistance, which was written by Val McDermid and was recently on BBC Radio 4. It imagines this pandemic taking place. You could say it’s a huge scare story, but nevertheless, it illustrates the potential scale of the problem. We need people to be worried and we need people to demand action be taken.
What is your message to government on AMR?
One thing we need to look at is how the pharmaceutical industry works. We need to understand its commercial models and work with what was identified within the O’Neill review. We need to assess how we allocate money in scientific research, which seems currently to be one dimensional – being either academic, or research focused. It makes sense to consider a different model whereby organisations like ANTRUK can secure funding easily.
What can people do to be responsible?
The best way to put pressure on health ministers is through constituents. These people need to engage with their MP. They can submit a standard letter to make it easy for them to do this. This will apply pressure on government and will raise awareness. But fighting antimicrobial resistance should be everyone’s responsibility.
Pharmaceutical companies need to step up and fulfil their responsibility to support and deliver solutions for our future health needs. Just because antibiotic research doesn’t fit within their payment model, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be researching new antibiotics. As was suggested in the O’Neill review, pharmaceutical companies should put money aside for research into antibiotic resistance; if they don’t, the government should apply a levy on them so they do.
If you want to get in touch with your local MP as well and help us to lobby the government, you can find out how to do so on the parliament website.