One Health front-and-center at UN and BIO confabs

Animal health companies, Big Pharma representatives and academics were among the attendees of the United Nations’ first-ever General Assembly meeting on combating antimicrobial resistance, which was held in New York City on September 21. Just before the meeting, the 193 UN member states signed a declaration that lays out a plan for responding to the rise of antibiotics-resistant superbugs.
The proposed response plan is similar to that used by the UN to tackle climate change, according to the Guardian. Scientists who published editorials in academic journals leading up to the meeting had urged that such an approach might limit antibiotics use in food production in developed countries–often cited as a major source of the rise of superbugs–while at the same time ensuring that less developed countries have access to the drugs to protect human health.
The declaration specifically suggests reducing the use of antibiotics administered to farm animals for non-medical purposes, such as growth promotion, according to Scientific American. It also promotes more research into the biology of superbugs and continued monitoring to better understand the scope of the antibiotics-resistance problem. Public-private partnerships might be necessary to reaching those goals, the declaration states. The UN plans to provide an update on its progress in two years.
Among those weighing in on the UN’s plan was Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and a longtime proponent of One Health, the movement that encourages collaboration between animal- and human-health experts. Last fall, WHO vowed to work more closely with animal health organizations to monitor emerging diseases in animals that have the potential to spread to people.
“Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal, and environmental health sectors,” Chan said in a statement from the UN on the day of the General Assembly meeting.
Simultaneous to the UN’s gathering, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) held a conference in Bethesda, MD, that also promoted One Health collaborations. The event, called the Animal Biotech Summit, featured welcome remarks from U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN), along with presentations by regulatory agency representatives, academics and executives from animal health companies. Presenters included Trans Ova Genetics, which provides reproductive technologies to improve animal husbandry, and SAB Biotherapeutics, which uses genetically engineered cattle to combat human disease.
In August, WHO issued a report naming SAB’s technology as one of six top approaches for fighting infectious diseases that pose the risk of becoming epidemics. SAB’s platform involves vaccinating genetically engineered cows with an organism or part of a toxin, which prompts them to produce human antibodies that can then be used to treat people.
Eddie Sullivan, co-founder of SAB, says his company’s technology fits well into the One Health concept. “Successful disease control requires rapid diagnosis and the capacity to respond quickly with new therapeutics and vaccines, all of which can be provided by biotechnology,” he wrote in a Forbes post during the BIO conference.
But Sullivan warned that without adequate support from government agencies and other financiers, advancing such ideas will prove difficult. “These technologies now need funding so plans can be activated and they are ready when they are needed most.”
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