Project to tackle potential 'post-antibiotic apocalypse' launched with $3.2 million pledge

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Global charitable foundation Wellcome has announced a £2.4 million ($3.2 million) investment in a project to track the worldwide impact of superbugs.

The Global Burden of Disease AMR (antimicrobial resistance) project is to be launched today at the Call to Action conference in Berlin, Germany. Tim Jinks, Wellcome's head of drug resistant infections, said it would provide vital information on both the spread and impact of drug resistance.

"While we have seen progress in recognition around the world of the threat that superbugs pose, we need to regain momentum," Jinks said. "High-level commitments must quickly become action."

The problem is a serious one, with Wellcome saying that drug resistant infections already kill 700,000 people each year.

The launch comes after Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, told the Press Association that the world was facing a "dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse" if action was not taken immediately.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Davies reiterated her concerns. "The problem is that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, particularly if they are overused, and yet they underpin modern medicine," she said, explaining that 25,000 people across Europe die every year of drug resistant infections.

"I'm really worried, as are experts, that if we don't do things to control this — improve infection prevention, get new drugs, better diagnostics — we will risk losing antibiotics," she said.

The Berlin conference was organized by Wellcome in partnership with the governments of the U.K., Thailand and Ghana, as well as the United Nations Foundation.

The AMR project is a collaboration between the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute and the Institute for Metrics and Evaluation. It is co-funded by the U.K. government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome.

"There is no doubt that together we can stop the superbugs which could undermine the whole of modern medicine," Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome's director, said in a statement Friday. "But the impact is now and the time to act is now, we need to bring real urgency to this."

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