Tough new targets to curb the overuse of antibiotics and cut the risk of the resurgence of killer diseases have been announced by the British government, which will require doctors to halve the number of inappropriate prescriptions written for the drugs by 2020. David Cameron told world leaders at the G7 summit in Japan that the issue was a priority for him, as he revealed plans to crack down on prescribing within the UK. Experts warn that unless action is taken drug-resistant infections will kill more people than cancer, taking 10 million lives a year by 2050. Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics – for instance for infections such as coughs and colds caused by a virus rather than bacteria – is to be halved within the next four years. Officials say 10 per cent of the 34 million antibiotics prescribed each year in Britian are handed to people inappropriately, suggesting a target reduction of 1.7 million prescriptions annually by 2020. A financial incentive scheme has already produced results. On Wednesday it was announced that GPs in England have cut all antibiotic prescriptions by 2.6million last year, a drop of 7.3 per cent. NHS commissioners were offered an extra GBP5 (US$8) per head of the local population for meeting a target of 1 per cent decrease in their use. The government’s second target is a commitment to halve the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections, such as E coli, acquired by patients in hospital by the same year, reducing the need for antibiotics. Third, it will reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals and farmed fish and control or ban those drugs that are important in human health. The measures follow last week’s seminal report into antibiotic use by Lord Jim O’Neill, who called for a global response to what has been described as an “antibiotic apocalypse”. Lord O’Neill set out a 10-point blueprint for reversing the erosion of the power of antibiotics to treat infection, from reducing doctors’ prescribing to curbing use of the drugs in farm animals and incentivising drug companies to invent new antibiotics. The new targets are all in line with the recommendations in his report, which was commissioned by Cameron two years ago. Downing Street says overuse of antibiotics for decades has been the key driver of the emergence of bugs that are starting to outsmart the drugs. The government has also accepted O’Neill’s proposals to incentivise the development of new drugs. The UK will give GBP50million to kickstart a new fund to reward companies that develop new, successful antibiotics and make them available to everyone who needs them. The O’Neill report suggested US$1.6billion a year over 10 years was required to develop 15 new drugs. The government said that was a relatively small figure when compared with the total annual global sales of pharmaceutical products of about US$1trillion.