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Academic & Professional Books  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Microbiology

Superbugs An Arms Race Against Bacteria

By: William Hall(Author), Anthony McDonnell(Author), Jim O'Neill(Author), Sally Davies(Foreword By)
246 pages, 2 b/w photos, 4 b/w illustrations, 3 tables
A slim volume about a large problem – we are losing the evolutionary arms race with bacteria.
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Average customer review
  • Superbugs ISBN: 9780674975989 Hardback Apr 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £26.95
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Antibiotics are powerful drugs that can prevent and treat infections, but they are becoming less effective as a result of drug resistance. Resistance develops because the bacteria that antibiotics target can evolve ways to defend themselves against these drugs. When antibiotics fail, there is very little else to prevent an infection from spreading.

Unnecessary use of antibiotics in both humans and animals accelerates the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, with potentially catastrophic personal and global consequences. Our best defences against infectious disease could cease to work, surgical procedures would become deadly, and we might return to a world where even small cuts are life-threatening. The problem of drug resistance already kills over one million people across the world every year and has huge economic costs. Without action, this problem will become significantly worse.

Following from their work on the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, William Hall, Anthony McDonnell, and Jim O'Neill outline the major systematic failures that have led to this growing crisis. They also provide a set of solutions to tackle these global issues that governments, industry, and public health specialists can adopt. In addition to personal behavioural modifications, such as better handwashing regimens, Superbugs argues for mounting an offence against this threat through agricultural policy changes, an industrial research stimulus, and other broad-scale economic and social incentives.


    Foreword by Sally Davies
    Part I. The Problem of Drug Resistance
        1. When a Scratch Could Kill
        2. The Rise of Resistance
        3. Failures in Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections
    Part II. Solutions to Counter Antimicrobial Resistance
        4. Incentives for New Drug Development
        5. Prevention Is Better than Cure
        6. Reducing Unnecessary Use of Antibiotics in Humans
        7. Agriculture and the Environment
        8. Next Steps

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A small book about a big problem
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 14 Nov 2019 Written for Hardback

    Antibiotics have been saving human lives since the drug Salvarsan was discovered in 1932. Penicillin went into mass-production in 1942. This is not a long time when you think about it, but a world without the protection offered by them already seems unimaginable. Not only have they offered protection from diseases such as tuberculosis, and stopped infections following injury or childbirth, they have also allowed us to develop surgical techniques requiring immune system suppression such as organ transplants. However, careless use of antibiotics has accelerated evolution of drug-resistant bacteria such that we are about to lose their protection.

    Superbugs: An Arms Race Against Bacteria is a small book written by two economists and a public policy professional, and follows on their work on the independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which was commissioned by former UK prime minister David Cameron and published in May 2016. The book chronicles the rise of resistant bacteria (you may have seen headlines mentioning MRSA, which is a microbe resistant to methicillin), and why this rise has happened. Part of the failure to develop new antibiotics has to do with the complexity of the science. But far more important are economic and political problems. A combination of the long time required before a drug is approved due to the trials that are needed and the limited duration of patents on these drugs means that it is economically not attractive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in researching new ones.

    The second part of the book outlines the solutions proposed by the authors to address this problem. They cover what incentives are required to stimulate drug development, how to prevent disease transmission, how to reduce the use of unnecessary antibiotics in humans, and the need to tackle the abuse of antibiotics in the livestock sector. That last point might come as a surprise to many readers, or so claim the authors. However, I think that animal welfare campaigners have been tabling this topic for long enough for it not to be a particular secret anymore. The reason that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is so problematic is that these are very similar to the ones used in humans, which means that we are shooting ourselves in the foot – this is another way to encourage evolution of drug-resistant bacteria.

    Throughout the book, the authors include quotes and fragments of interviews they have had with scientists and policymakers, providing interesting viewpoints. Lucidly written, the book is far from alarmist, but the situation it sketches is very alarming nevertheless. Whether the solutions proposed here can be put into practice in a timely manner (if at all) remains to be seen. But this is one of those books that you hope will end up in the hands of politicians, for they need to understand the severity of the threat we are facing. One only has to think back to the 2013-2014 Ebola crisis to realise how difficult it is to control disease outbreaks once they occur. Beyond that group, this book is an excellent primer and overview of the what, how, why, and the “what now” of antibiotics and resistant bacteria that should be widely read.
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William Hall, a public policy professional, served as Senior Policy Advisor for the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Anthony McDonnell, a researcher at the Wellcome Trust and the London School of Economics, was Head of Economic Research for the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Jim O’Neill, an internationally recognized economist, served as Chair of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

By: William Hall(Author), Anthony McDonnell(Author), Jim O'Neill(Author), Sally Davies(Foreword By)
246 pages, 2 b/w photos, 4 b/w illustrations, 3 tables
A slim volume about a large problem – we are losing the evolutionary arms race with bacteria.
Media reviews

"Jim O'Neill helped take the issue of antimicrobial resistance from the science lab to the global stage. He and coauthors Anthony McDonnell and William Hall impart a compelling story about the battle against what could become a mass killer of humanity."
– David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

"Addressing antimicrobial resistance requires the kind of thoughtful yet action-oriented analysis that this vitally important book provides. The messages in Superbugs should be heeded by individuals, government officials, and policymakers around the world."
– Larry Summers, former director of the White House National Economic Council

"With superb insight into one of the greatest health threats to humankind, Superbugs highlights the need for an integrated, multifaceted approach to treating drug-resistant infections. This riveting book makes a compelling case for action."
– Peter Piot, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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