NRP 72 impulse conference on results and recommendations

© Marco Finsterwald

Improving the efficacy of antibiotics and curbing resistance: NRP 72 researchers presented numerous new findings and tools and held discussions with representatives from practice and politics at the concluding impulse conference.

Successful research

Scientists have spent almost six years conducting research into new approaches to curbing antibiotic resistance in the “Antimicrobial Resistance” national research programme (NRP 72) run by the Swiss National Science Foundation. On 18 November 2022, they presented key findings and recommendations at the closing conference of the programme at the Casino in Bern. Major progress has been made on all of the focal topics covered by the programme. The researchers showed how the spread of resistance can be monitored and curbed more effectively, how antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine can not only be used better but also more sparingly. The researchers also laid out highly promising approaches for novel antibiotics to overcome currently existing resistances.

Scientific innovation alone will not suffice

How the numerous results of the programme will impact Switzerland’s strategy and how they can be translated into concrete measures was discussed at the well-attended event not only by researchers but also by representatives of administrative bodies and policymakers. Joachim Frey, President of the NRP 72 Steering Committee, explained that while scientific innovation can provide instruments and deliver a basis for decision-making, it will require the commitment and coordination of a large number of actors from a wide range of social sectors to realise a significant impact in the real world.

With this in mind, top-class speakers discussed the new findings from different points of view. Dagmar Heim from the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office and representative of the national antibiotic resistance strategy (StAR) stated that the newly developed methods for improved resistance monitoring will need to be systematically built up and integrated into existing monitoring programs over the coming years.

Cantons and national policymakers are called upon

In Switzerland, key framework conditions are often defined by the cantons. Thus, a significant proportion of the discussion was spent on this topic. Stefan Müller, Head of the Department of Agriculture (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and President of the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Agriculture, and Lukas Engelberger, member of the Cantonal Government (Basel-Stadt) and President of the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Public Health outlined ways in which the new findings and instruments can contribute towards further optimising antibiotic use in human and veterinary medicine. It became clear that many of the new findings could be integrated into existing endeavours. However, both speakers pointed out potential conflicts of interest, such as between strict guidelines for the selective use of antibiotics and the discretion enjoyed by physicians in prescribing the drugs.

From the point of view of policymakers at national level, national councillors Brigitte Crottaz (SP, Vaud) and Patricia von Falkenstein (LDP, Basel-Stadt), also identified key points where important decisions need to be made in order to implement scientific evidence into practice. For instance, Patricia von Falkenstein showed, that several parliamentary initiatives have been unsuccessfully launched in recent years to improve the general conditions for the development of new antibiotics. In line with the conclusions of NRP 72, she called upon politicians to finally address this topic.

Switzerland could assume a key international role

Malin Grape, antimicrobial resistance ambassador of Sweden, confirmed that this is precisely a field in which Switzerland could make an enormously important contribution at an international level. She is lending a face to the problem of antimicrobial resistance both in Sweden and internationally This enables her to increase awareness among the public and politicians of the so-called “silent pandemic” of antibiotic resistance. So far, only Sweden and the UK have created such a role. Malin Grape would welcome Switzerland establishing a post of this kind too.

In the concluding panel discussion with the speakers, moderator Tom Kobel not only summed up the key points from the lectures, but adeptly followed up with critical questions, while working out the aspects the speakers agreed on with regard to implementing the results and recommendations of the research programme. Kobel launched the discussion by asking the speakers how they rated their own behaviour in preventing the emergence and spread of resistance – when preparing chicken, for example, or taking precautionary measures after travelling to countries with a high prevalence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The answers were all very similar and could doubtless be applied to Switzerland as a whole. “About seven to eight on a scale of one to ten – so good, with room for improvements”.