Antibiotics have transformed the way we live; from treating chest or skin infections that used to routinely kill people, to making hip replacement operations routine, to making lifesaving surgery, transplants and cancer treatments possible.
We are all affected by antibiotics, but now we need new ones. Why? Because the number of bacteria which are resistant to the antibiotics we have is steadily increasing.
The risks posed by antibiotic resistant infections are considered severe enough that they are included in the UK Government’s national risk register. But these infections affect people all around the world.
No one could fail to be affected by the heartbreaking stories from Malawi recently, where an epidemic of infections is causing sepsis in newborn babies. According to media reports, this is one of the leading causes of death among newborns in that country, accounting for nearly a fifth of neonatal deaths in 2016.
The leadership that the UK has shown on tackling this problem is very welcome. With Dame Sally Davies’ international leadership and Lord Jim O’Neill’s report, the enquiry the Health Select Committee is holding to support the government’s new 5-year strategy is very timely.
I will be talking to the Heath Select Committee later to explain the pharmaceutical industry’s strong commitment to play its part in the fight against these infections and some of the challenges we face.
More than 100 companies and associations signed up to support the Davos Declaration seeking to align the industry and bring everyone up to the same standards for research, stewardship, access and environmental standards. We need to make sure that we don’t lose momentum.
First – what is industry doing.
We know we need new antibiotics, but the current system doesn’t encourage their development. There’s a fundamental problem with the market, which has resulted in companies leaving antibiotic research. The Government’s new 5-year strategy presents an opportunity to maintain momentum and re-state the urgency to address the challenge of AMR.
It can take over 10 years and millions of pounds to research, develop and launch a new medicine. The science is complicated and the development of antibiotics requires complex, multi-disciplinary teams to be successful.
For most diseases, if there is a medicine that is better than the others, then you want as many patients as possible to be able to have it. But when you find a new antibiotic effective against a superbug, you want to restrict the use of the antibiotic, to make sure it stays effective. Whilst a new antibiotic might work in 10 people, if existing antibiotics can effectively treat 9 of those patients, you want to make sure the new antibiotic is only used in the 10th patient, where the others don’t work.
This means that companies cannot look to sell high volumes of antibiotics in order to pay for the research into future antibiotics which are needed.
To change this, we have been working closely with government to develop a framework in which reward for discovering and developing effective new antibiotics is de-linked from the volume of use. We believe this new economic model is ready to pilot early next year and we already have 5 candidate products submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care for consideration. But we need collaboration and a pragmatic approach from all involved to make this happen.
We absolutely agree with Lord O’Neill’s recommendation that better market entry rewards are needed to encourage sustainable investment in new antibiotics. We believe the model we are working on with the Department of Health and Social Care is the best way to do this. We believe it will have a positive effect on the whole ecosystem of research.
No-one is going to solve AMR alone, but we are determined to play our part in addressing the challenge, and a key part of this will be to collaborate closely with all our partners to make this alternative model of funding work. We know this work is urgent and have a real opportunity to make a big change now.