Antibiotic resistance is not a new phenomenon; bacteria have always had the capacity to mutate and adapt to develop resistance.
However, this does not make the development of antibiotic resistance any less of a threat to public and animal health. Given their vital role, addressing the problem demands collaboration between all stakeholders - policymakers, scientists, industry, veterinarians, farmers, healthcare professionals as well as the general public.
The development of antibiotic resistance is a global problem requiring global solutions. In recognition of this, the WHO has launched a World Antibiotic Awareness Week, beginning on 16 November. Combined with Europe’s own Antibiotic Awareness Day - now in its eighth year - it helps draw attention to the importance of responsible antibiotic use.
The animal health industry is a key actor in minimising the development of antibiotic resistance, and takes its responsibility very seriously. Our association, IFAH-Europe, is a founding partner and staunch supporter of EPRUMA (European Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals).
We actively work to promote the responsible use of our members’ products and develop information to inform livestock farmers precisely what responsible use involves. As with all medicines, antibiotics must be used appropriately. Deploying them with the proper care and discrimination helps maintain their effectiveness and limit the development of resistance.
However, responsible use is only one of the actions required to combat antibiotic resistance and maintain high standards of animal health.
The industry advocates that our products should be used as part of the overall approach to managing animal health, along with biosecurity measures, herd health plans, vaccination, accurate diagnosis and treatment under veterinary care and good record keeping.
Another component is to monitor both the use of antibiotics in farms and where and when resistance is developing. The animal health industry has supported target pathogen monitoring through CEESA (European Animal Health Study Centre) as well as strongly encouraging the Heads of Medicines Agency initiative to develop a Target Pathogen Monitoring Programme in Europe.
More recently, we have been part of the ESVAC programme (European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption). This programme, sponsored by the European Medicines Agency, is seeking to assess veterinary antibiotic usage within individual Member States across the EU. Encouragingly, the most recent ESVAC report, published in October 2015, shows that sales of antibiotics for use in animals dropped by approximately 8 per cent between 2011 and 2013.
In the vast majority of cases, antibiotics offer the only effective treatment for treating animals with a bacterial infection. Encouraging the responsible use of our members’ products will help maintain the long-term efficacy of existing antibiotics, treatments that our members were instrumental in discovering and developing. This is vitally important for animal health; there is only a limited range of antibiotic classes approved for veterinary use, less than those for human use. Furthermore, it is more than 25 years since any new class has been introduced.
Continuing investment in research and development is vitally important. We must encourage the development of new products and improvements to existing products. One way to do this is to improve the period of data exclusivity. For antibiotics, this is particularly important. Given the challenges posed by increased data requirements, restricted market use and an unpredictable market environment, the industry needs data exclusivity for 20 years to make investment in research viable.
IFAH-Europe actions are aligned with the European Commission’s ‘action plan against the rising threats from antimicrobial resistance’. We also strongly support many of the points set out in the Commission’s recently published ‘Guidelines for the prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine’. Steps to reduce resistance to antibiotics should be part of a ‘one health’ approach, with all sectors concerned making a combined effort to find science-based solutions. The main objective should not simply be to reduce antibiotic use; we should be aiming to reduce resistance to antibiotics.
Our motto is ‘As little as possible, as much as necessary’. Restrictions in using antibiotics in veterinary medicine must not undermine animal health and welfare.