Antimicrobials/Antibiotics

Antimicrobials/Antibiotics

Vaccines and antibiotics have revolutionized infectious disease prevention and treatment, saving millions of lives worldwide. Rising levels of resistance to antimicrobials is a serious threat to public health, food safety and global security.

For more than 80 years, our company has played a significant role in the discovery and development of novel medicines and vaccines to treat and prevent infectious diseases in both humans and animals, including the development of sulfamerazine, one of the world’s first antibiotics, in 1938 and one of the first methods for mass production of penicillin during World War II. Today, we are one of only a few large pharmaceutical companies that has sustained a focus in research and development (R&D) aimed at producing new vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat bacterial infections.

“The rise in infections that are resistant to current antibiotics has become one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. We are proud to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to develop new therapeutics to fight infectious diseases, and to continue to collaborate with others to support antimicrobial stewardship to help slow the rate of emerging resistance.”

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer

The Global Challenge of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

Antimicrobials are medicines to treat and prevent infectious diseases caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections, are one of the most important types of antimicrobials. AMR occurs when a pathogen evolves to survive antimicrobial treatment. While such evolution is inevitable, AMR is developing more quickly due to the inappropriate use of antimicrobials. Bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotic medicines are becoming more common—jeopardizing our ability to treat what are historically considered minor infections and increasing the risks associated with secondary infections that can be commonplace with procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy and transplantation. Action is needed to slow down the development and spread of AMR so that the antimicrobials we have continue to work for as long as possible.

The health and economic consequences of antibiotic resistance are considerable and costly, making it a serious threat to population health that demands a concerted, global response. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year.1 The cost of infections caused by resistant pathogens to the U.S. health care system is between $21 and 34 billion annually.2 In the European Union, drug-resistant bacteria are estimated to cause 25,000 deaths per year.3

New antibiotics are urgently needed to address growing resistance; however, there are relatively few in development. Over the past two decades, there has been a significant decline in the number of companies conducting antibiotic and antifungal R&D. Today, only five of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies have antibiotics in clinical development.

Annually in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

While the pace of resistance may be slowed through programs that promote the responsible and appropriate use of antibiotics, research must continue into new antibiotics and additional therapeutic and vaccine strategies that address this critical unmet need.

In April 2018, during the 28th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), our company underscored its continued commitment to discovering and developing novel medicines in the global fight against infectious diseases with more than 25 scientific data presentations on the company’s established and investigational infectious disease medicines. Learn more.

Delivering on Our Commitments

Our company is committed to playing its part in the global response to AMR.

In January 2016, our company and over 100 biopharmaceutical, generic medicines and diagnostic companies, as well as key trade associations, launched a joint declaration at the World Economic Forum setting out bold commitments and calling for governments and industry to take action against AMR.

At the UN High Level Meeting on AMR in September 2016, MSD and 12 other leading companies released the Industry Roadmap for Progress on Combating AMR. This document laid out additional commitments to reduce the environmental impact from the production of antibiotics, help ensure antibiotics are only used by those who need them, improve access to antibiotics globally and explore new opportunities for collaborations between industry and the public sector.

We are a founding board member of the AMR Industry Alliance, comprised of signatories of these documents, to drive and measure industry progress against these commitments.

In October 2017, MSD Animal Health worked with HealthforAnimals to develop global animal health commitments related to the responsible use of antibiotics and investment into other areas of animal health and welfare.

For more information on our progress against these commitments, please refer to the following document: Delivering on Our Commitments: MSD’s Actions to Address Antimicrobial Resistance.

Our Global AMR Action Plan describes our company’s long-standing commitment to the global fight against infectious disease and our efforts to help slow the rate of emergence of potentially deadly resistant organisms. The Global AMR Action Plan includes sections on how our company is:

  • Leading in infectious prevention through the development and production of vaccines to prevent infections and reduce the need for antibiotics
  • Driving innovation to discover and develop new treatments and antibiotic alternatives to address AMR
  • Advocating for policy solutions to support sustainable investment in the development of new tools to combat AMR
  • Advancing antimicrobial stewardship to improve patient outcomes and slow the development of AMR
  • Supporting global AMR surveillance through our Study for Monitoring Antimicrobial Resistance Trends (SMART), which provides data to the scientific community on AMR trends
  • Protecting and maintaining animal health by promoting vaccination and the responsible use of antibiotics

“Our company remains deeply committed to working with governments, health care providers, patients and others to drive antibiotic innovation, promote appropriate use and enhance access for patients.”

Kenneth C. Frazier
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States. 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf.
2. Roberts, R.R., Hota, B., Ahmad, I., Scott, R.D., Foster, S.D., Abbasi, F., et al. (2009) Hospital and societal costs of antimicrobial-resistant infections in a Chicago teaching hospital: implications for antibiotic stewardship. Clin Infect Dis 49: 1175–1184.
3. European Medicines Agency, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Joint technical report: the bacterial challenge—time to react. 2009. Available at: https://ecdc.europa.eu/sites/portal/files/media/en/publications/Publications/0909_TER_The_Bacterial_Challenge_Time_to_React.pdf.