Antimicrobial drug resistance

Commission activities in the area of antimicrobial drug resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microbes such as fungi, viruses, parasites and bacteria develop mechanisms that make them resistant to one or more antimicrobial drugs. This drug resistance is a major obstacle in the treatment of infectious diseases worldwide. It has been observed following the introduction of every antimicrobial agent into clinical practice. For example, resistance of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus to penicillin was encountered in hospitals as early as the mid-1940s, only a few years after the introduction of penicillin. The global human burden posed by drug-resistant infections is difficult to quantify, but we have reason to fear that it may be enormous. In the European Union alone, 33 000 people die each year due to infections caused by resistant bacteria. The burden of infections with bacteria resistant to antibiotics on the European population is comparable to that of influenza, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. The European Commission funds research projects on AMR through its Framework Programmes (FP) for research and innovation. This support started with FP5 in 1999 and continued through to FP7 and Horizon 2020 today.

The research activities follow a One Health approach and aim to preserve the possibility of of effective treatment of infections in humans and animals by developing new tools and solutions. Projects deal with the development of rapid diagnostic tests, new antimicrobial therapies and alternatives like vaccines, new strategies for the responsible use of antibiotics in human medicine, food producing animals and aquaculture as well as the way in which antimicrobial resistance develops and is transmitted including through the environment.

Novel incentives are used such as the €1 million Horizon Prize for the better use of antibiotics. The prize was awarded to MINICARE HNL in 2017 for a finger prick test that can diagnose in less than ten minutes a bacterial infection and identify if a patient can be treated safely without antibiotics. Another example of fresh incentives is the provision of loans supporting research and development via InnovFin Infectious Diseases.

The Commission continues to scale up its fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), with the launch of a second AMR Action Plan in June 2017. The new Action Plan focusses on supporting Member States, particularly in establishing, implementing and monitoring their National Action Plans. It also brings together EU funds and instruments to promote innovation and research against AMR and strengthen the EU's leading role in global fora, notably within international organisations and with major trade partners.

The key objectives of this Action Plan are built on three main pillars:

  1. Making the EU a best practice region
  2. Boosting research, development and innovation
  3. Shaping the global agenda

The research strategy covers the full One-Health spectrum addressing human and animal health as well as the role of the environment, and links research and innovation with policy development.

Research collaboration initiatives

In May 2012 the New Drugs for Bad Bugs (ND4BB) programme started under the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a partnership between the European Commission and the European pharmaceutical industry. In ND4BB academic and other public partners, small and large pharmaceutical companies team up to advance the development of new antibiotics. To date, 7 projects covering the discovery, development and economics of new antimicrobials have been initiated within ND4BB.

As AMR spreads across borders, trans-national cooperation is crucial. EU funding enabled the establishment of a Joint Programming Initiative on AMR to integrate research efforts across national borders via alignment and research funding, to create a common research agenda, and to eestablish a virtual research institute.

EU institutions also cooperate closely with the governments and specialised agencies of the USA, Canada and Norway in the Transatlantic Taskforce on Antimicrobial Resistance (TATFAR) with the goal of improving cooperation in areas like research and innovation. Furthermore, the Commission is a leading member of the Global AMR R&D hub, a G20 initiative that aims to further improve the coordination of international efforts and initiatives to tackle AMR while further increasing investments into R&D.