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Keeping an eye on medicines

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THE emphasis of late has been on antimicrobial resistance, and the contribution that both the veterinary and medical professions can make to help curb its development, but the latest annual review from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which has recently been published on its website,1 provides a useful reminder that this is by no means the only medicines-related issue of interest at present, nor is it the only area in which the agency has been active. The VMD exists to ensure the quality, safety and efficacy of veterinary medicines used in the UK and, in the words of its chief executive, Peter Borriello, the review, for 2012/13, describes its key achievements in ‘assuring the availability of veterinary medicines that can be used safely and with a high degree of expectation that the animal will benefit from the treatment.’

Among other things, the review describes how, following the emergence of bluetongue virus in 2011, the veterinary pharmaceuticals industry in the UK was quick to develop a vaccine against the virus and how, working with the industry and speeding up its assessment process, the VMD was able to authorise a safe and effective vaccine in May 2013, ready for use in the summer, which meant that UK farmers were the first in the EU to have access to a vaccine against this disease. It also draws attention to its role in helping to get a new foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine authorised across the EU using the EU's multi-strain dossier approach, which allows the vaccine to be adapted to the variant of the virus causing an outbreak. This is the first FMD vaccine to have been authorised in this way and should give member states the option of deploying a vaccine containing the appropriate strains quickly if an outbreak occurs.

As the agency responsible for surveillance for residues of veterinary medicines in meat, the VMD was involved in helping to deal with the horsemeat scandal that erupted earlier this year, clarifying the situation regarding phenylbutazone and liaising with the Food Standards Agency on testing. The review also draws attention to the VMD's voluntary Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme, which was launched in May last year and allows people buying veterinary medicines over the internet to check that the retailer supplying the product meets UK requirements.

Discussing the agency's regulatory role, it notes that, in 2012/13, the VMD inspected 619 veterinary practices, 290 retailers and 347 manufacturers and distributors of medicated feedingstuffs, and undertook 39 investigations into allegations of unlawful activities. Its enforcement activities range from offering simple advice and guidance to issuing warning letters, letters demanding improvement and seizure notices; in the most serious cases, prosecutions are brought. Misuse of veterinary prescription is described in the review as ‘a growing concern’. The VMD dealt with about 140 cases of forgery and unauthorised changes to prescriptions in 2012/13; in most cases it sent warning letters, but the more serious cases where fraud was suspected were investigated with a view to prosecution, resulting in a number of convictions.

On antimicrobial resistance, the VMD's review emphasises that responsible use of antimicrobials is essential in both human and veterinary medicine while making the point that ‘While we defend the vet's right to prescribe antibiotics in order to protect animal health and welfare, we emphasise that their use should not replace good farm management and animal husbandry systems.’ Actions and activities discussed in the review include co-sponsorship of a debate at a One Health symposium on antimicrobial resistance in human and veterinary medicine held in London last year (VR, October 20, 2012, vol 171, pp 391-392); working with Farmers’ Weekly magazine on a Responsible Use of Medicines campaign; and the announcement of a ban on the advertising of antimicrobials to farmers, which takes effect on October 1 this year (see p 233 of this issue).

The review also draws attention to the need to develop a stronger evidence base in relation to antimicrobial use and resistance, adding ‘We need to make sure that any activities we undertake are based on evidence in order to ensure that they have maximum impact with minimal unintended consequences.’ With the Department of Health and Defra having just published a five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy, and with European Antibiotic Resistance Day taking place on November 18, it will be important to keep that maxim in mind in the months ahead. Meanwhile, the European Commission is currently in the process of updating veterinary medicines legislation and animal health law generally. 2012/13 may have been a busy year for the VMD, but it is likely to have even more to do in 2013/14.

1. VMD Annual Review 2012/13. www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/business/about_review.aspx. Accessed September 10, 2013

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