For pharmaceutical companies, people needing more medicine might not be a problem at first. But when resistance to medicines outpaces the development of new solutions, the industry must take a moment to understand what is hindering the efficacy of antibiotics, Alba Tiley, Head of the Sustainable Antibiotics Division of DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals said on Thursday at the Mexico Health Summit in Mexico City.
During her presentation at the Hotel Sheraton María Isabel, Alba Tiley, Head of the Sustainable Antibiotics Division of DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals, explained to the audience that even though antibiotics are the cornerstone of modern healthcare, they are not valued as they should be. “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest problems in the industry, comparable even to climate change due to its scope in the global population,” she said. “By 2050, up to 10 million deaths could be attributable to AMR, costing trillions of dollars to the global economy.”
Tiley explained AMR is a recurring phenomenon in nature due to the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals. “Many doctors prescribe antibiotics for viral diseases and in the US, two out of every three antibiotics prescriptions are useless,” she said. The problem is not new, however, which Tiley explained by citing Alexander Fleming who said that the man who uses penicillin carelessly is responsible for the death of a person resistant to penicillin.
However, Tiley highlighted another cause for AMR that might be overseen by many companies. “Pollution and misuse are among the main drivers for antimicrobial resistance,” she said. Companies tend to neglect proper wastewater treatment in medicine manufacturing, which leads to pollution in rivers and other water bodies that can lead to AMR in animals and humans. “This industry is very competitive and has low margins,” Tiley said. “Clients are looking for the cheapest drugs, which leads to companies cutting corners to reduce costs. However, someone, somewhere is paying the price of those bad practices.”
Tiley provided three potential solutions that involve not only companies but clients and even the government. First, the industry must work to higher standards and improved transparency, thus helping users understand why pollution is important and why medicines might have higher production costs. Second, companies must follow stricter production guidelines. “We work in a highly regulated industry, so why do we not include AMR and sustainable manufacturing practices?” Tiley asked. Finally, governments should consider sustainability criteria in procurement of pharmaceuticals.
Tiley highlighted Sweden as the only country currently working under sustainable procurement standards with the Netherlands following suit. “Mexico is the second-largest market for antibiotics in Latin America, which means it could play a leading role in fighting AMR,” she said. “We need to make sure we get the sustainable angle under control and we need international cooperation on a problem that is borderless.”