Jo Atkinson: Fighting Resistant Infections
Pfizer’s Anti-Infectives Product Lead highlights the importance of R&D with a focus on AMR patients
Growing up in apartheid South Africa, Jo Atkinson vividly remembers watching her father, who was a general practitioner, navigate the inequalities of the time. It gave her a unique perspective on the importance of access to medicines that she carries with her every day in her work. Jo says:
“My father was very aware of the inequality in access to healthcare between [black patients and white patients]. There were many stories over the years of the patients that he helped, but I remember one Saturday I was helping him in the surgery – as we were driving home, we passed a lady, an elderly black lady, with a child on her back. A few meters down the road, my dad turned around, and he said he just had a feeling that the lady was heading to the surgery and she was going to find it closed. My dad managed to treat the child, who had an acute bacterial infection, and gave a course of antibiotics.
It was a real moment of realization for me how important getting access to the right medicines is. And those patients are what I think about when I come to work every day.”
Now, working for Pfizer in the United Kingdom, getting the right medicines to people is a personal focus and commitment for her. Working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic only highlighted the urgency. It illustrated the need for regulatory flexibility to advance innovation and bring valuable treatments to patients as quickly as possible-without compromising on their quality and safety.
Jo firmly believes the need to focus on finding new anti-microbials is essential to combat new diseases or find better ways to deal with existing ones. Jo has personal experience with this when, years ago, she contracted Tuberculosis (which has treatment-resistant variants). She wasn’t sure whether her infection could be treated with available therapies or if she had a drug resistant variant. She had to wait over a week to get the results back, and says it was one of the longest weeks of her life. Helping to make sure others don’t have to face similar situations is an important motivation for her to advocate for the combination of access and R&D.
“No one should have to worry that the infection they have is not treatable.” – Jo Atkinson
With the revision of the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation, we have a once-in a generation opportunity to revitalize our research infrastructure and develop needed new treatments. This includes the growing concern of Anti-Microbial Resistance, which is the ability of microbes to resist our current treatments. Without intervention, estimates are that by 2050 AMR could take 10 million lives per year globally, more than cancer.
With this in mind, we are glad that Jo is on our team, working to bring new treatments to those in need. It’s only thanks to people like her that we can make the difference.