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G8 debating antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance will top the agenda when science minister David Willetts meets his G8 colleagues in London.

The meeting, taking place at the Royal Society, is the first conference of science ministers from the group of eight wealthiest nations in five years. It will provide an opportunity to discuss international issues that require global co-operation.

One of the most pressing is the rise of "superbugs" immune to most currently available antibiotics. Experts fear the time is fast approaching when everyday infections will be untreatable, making routine procedures such as hip replacements much more risky.

Overuse of antibiotics is driving drug resistance. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that hospitals could dispense with nearly half the antibiotics they use.

Mr Willetts will discuss with his colleagues how governments can work together to develop new antibiotics and employ them more wisely.

"This is the first meeting of G8 science ministers in five years," he said. "Only through working together can we tackle global challenges like public health and maximise the social and economic benefits of research.

"I want to discuss with my G8 counterparts how we can better address the issue of antibiotic resistance, drawing on the expertise of our science and research bases to speed up the introduction of new drugs. Open data and open access to research are also important international issues that I want to see progress on. They are fundamental to the Government's transparency agenda and will speed up scientific discovery and drive growth."

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society who will co-chair the meeting with Mr Willetts, said: "Climate change and the need to feed and provide healthcare for a growing global population are just some of the international challenges that humanity is having to face up to. Science may well help us to resolve some of these problems, if we let it.

"There is a growing realisation that the overuse of antibiotics and a failure to invest in new treatments could leave us without many of the tools that doctors take for granted today. Healthcare could be set back many decades with people dying from infections that are easily treated now."

The Government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "Soaring antibiotic-resistance threatens to take us back to a 19th-century environment where infections from routine operations could kill us, as I highlighted in my Chief Medical Officer's annual report in March 2013. We urgently need international action and agreement, which is why I have been pressing for it to be much higher up the global political agenda at the G8 as well as the EU, UN and Commonwealth."

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