Commons debate research and development for infectious diseases

On Thursday 20 April, our Co-Chair Virendra Sharma MP led a debate in the House of Commons' chamber on Research and development for tackling infectious diseases'.

The wide-ranging debate had been supported by the APPGs on Global TB, HIV and AIDS, and Malaria and NTDs.

Other Members, including International Development Committee Member Jeremy Lefroy MP, Carol Monaghan MP, and Shadow Minister Catherine West MP, raised the importance of research and development for new TB tools - particularly within the context of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

During his remarks, Mr Sharma said:

"At the current rate of progress, it will take at least 150 years to the end the TB epidemic. Moreover, the O’Neill review published last year made it quite clear that AMR will exacerbate this bleak outlook. I am a co-chair of the all-party group on TB. The group recently held an event on TB and AMR, which included contributions from the Minister and Lord O’Neill, who reiterated the review’s conclusion that tackling TB must ​be at the heart of any global action on AMR. TB already accounts for one third of AMR debts. If left unaddressed, it will by 2050 cost the economy over $16 trillion. As Lord O’Neill said at our event, the cost of investing in new drugs is minuscule compared with the cost of doing nothing. At present, treatment for drug-resistant TB involves an arduous two-year course of 14,000 pills, which can have severe side-effects including permanent deafness, as well as eight months of intravenous injections. It is little wonder that less than half of those who start treatment complete the course...

The Minister will be aware that AMR is one of the topics being considered by the G20 this year. Last year, the G20 tasked the OECD and others with creating a road map on incentivising research and development in relation to new antibiotics. In line with the O’Neill review’s conclusions that TB must be at the heart of the AMR response, will the Minister take steps to ensure that it is prioritised in the G20 discussions on AMR? Will he ensure that the Government push for agreement on new mechanisms to incentivise research and development to tackle AMR and, within that, drug-resistant TB, especially as half of all cases of TB and drug-resistant TB, as well as TB deaths, occur in G20 countries?"

Members also noted the UK's historic investment in Product Development Partnerships that are working to develop the next generation of TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; as well as calling for the Ross Fund to be used to complement existing investment.

Replying for the Government, DFID Minister James Wharton MP stated:

"What a pleasure it is to speak in this debate. Given recent announcements and national events, it is perhaps the last opportunity I will have to speak in a debate in my current role in the Department for International Development. Whatever happens, my interest in this work will certainly continue, even if my work itself does not, although of course I would like it to continue—it is hardly necessary for me to put that on the record. But it is subject to the will of the people and we will see what takes place.In that context, let me start by recognising the tone of the debate and the approach taken by so many colleagues of different political persuasions, representing different parties and different parts of our country, to this important subject, and indeed to the range of issues that the Department covers. I have infrequently known an area of policy that has brought together so many people who care passionately about such important global issues, or about which there is so little disagreement or division across party lines. It stands as a testament to the sort of politics that many members of the public wish could be demonstrated more often, with Members bringing forward issues they care about in a constructive way, engaging with Ministers and getting a response that I hope they feel is equally constructive, because together we can make a difference to the lives of countless millions of people in some of the world’s poorest countries facing some of the world’s most challenging circumstances...

As hon. Members recognised—they spoke about this in some detail—the situation is exacerbated by the global health threat of antimicrobial resistance, which is as real a threat to us here in the UK as it is to so many millions across the world. Antimicrobial resistance will lead to the greater spread of infections, longer illnesses, higher mortality, increased costs and greater economic impact from infectious diseases. It is a global challenge, and we all have a role in tackling it and an obligation to do so.On that note, I would particularly like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), who has done sterling work in this area. I have enjoyed attending all-party group meetings with him, and I have enjoyed the constructive relationship we have had. He spoke with a great depth of knowledge and understanding about the scale of the challenges we face and about the need to continually develop and innovate and to ensure we do everything we can to find the solutions of the future. He spoke of his concerns about antimicrobial resistance, and he referred to a meeting he and I recently attended at which that very issue was explored at some length, particularly in the context of TB."