Outterson Calls for Global Treaty to Address Antibiotic Resistance

Professor collaborates with international coalition to spark action against pressing threat to public health

Ten million deaths, annually: that is how many lives will be at stake each year by 2050 if we do not begin to address the serious issue of drug-resistant infections. It’s a problem that needs immediate addressing—and one that Professor Kevin Outterson has been vigorously working to bring to the forefront of global public health conversations since 2005.

Outterson is an expert on global pharmaceutical markets, particularly antibiotics and other antimicrobials that can degrade in usefulness over time through resistance. He publishes frequently on the subject, including the 2014 paper “New Business Models for Sustainable Antibiotics.” In February 2015, he co-authored two significant publications that bring to light the grave threat that a “superbug” could pose on public health, calling for a global treaty to address the issue.

In Health Affairs, the premier US health policy journal, Outterson co-authored “Repairing The Broken Market For Antibiotic Innovation” with John H. Powers of the George Washington University School of Medicine Gregory W. Daniel of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at Brookings, and Mark B. McClellan, former head of the US Department of Health & Human Services and commissioner of the FDA.

Antibiotic innovation is lagging because new antibiotics don’t sell well, partially due to the need to hold new antibiotics in reserve until they are needed. The paper proposes three sustainable reforms that could revitalize innovations that protect public health: “increased incentives for antibiotic research and development, surveillance, and stewardship; greater targeting of incentives to high-priority public health needs, including reimbursement that is delinked from volume of drug use; and enhanced global collaboration, including a global treaty.”

Secondly, Outterson published an editorial in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, entitled “An International Legal Framework to Address Antimicrobial Resistance.” Co-authors include Steven J. Hoffman of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, John-Arne Røttingen of the Division of Infectious Disease Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Otto Cars of ReAct – Action on Antibiotic Resistance at Uppsala University, Charles Clift of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, Zain Rizvi of Yale Law School, Fiona Rotberg of Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Göran Tomson of the Karolinska Institute, and Anna Zorzet of ReAct.

The authors call for action beyond the Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance, prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO), that will be discussed at the upcoming World Health Assembly. To “grapple effectively with this huge and complex problem,” the authors write, “Global collective action is required in three areas: (i) access, to ensure that the prevention tools, diagnostics and therapies needed to reduce the infectious disease burden are available and affordable to everyone, everywhere; (ii) conservation, to reduce the need for antimicrobials and ensure their responsible use through prevention efforts, infection control, surveillance and appropriate prescriptions; and (iii) innovation, to develop the next generation of antimicrobials, vaccines, diagnostics and infection control technologies.”

Both publications call for an international legal framework for addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance. “Political mobilization has never been higher for this issue, with strong leadership from President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, and Chancellor Merkel, as well as several Nordic countries," says Outterson. "Now is the time to strike a global bargain to preserve the most effective drug class in history.”

Outterson is widely recognized for his work on the legal ecology of antimicrobial resistance. He is the only US partner in a €9 million project funded by the European Union to drive reinvestment in antibiotics, is an appointed member of the Antimicrobial Resistance Working Group at the Centers for Disease Control, and he leads an interdisciplinary project on the legal ecology of antimicrobial resistance. He an associate fellow at Chatham House, London, where he continue to work on these issues.

Additionally, Outterson has testified before the US House of Representatives and addressed international collaborations regarding the need to overhaul the broken economic model for the research and development of antibiotics.


kevin outterson

Professor Kevin Outterson is an associate fellow at Chatham House London, the only US partner in a €9 million project funded by the EU to drive reinvestment in antibiotics, and an appointed member of the Antimicrobial Resistance Working Group at the Centers for DIsease Control.

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Last edited February 6, 2015

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