At a time when many firms are cutting back on research, it looks as though Bayer will be upping its R&D spend in 2010, according to the German group’s chairman.

Speaking at the firm’s Perspective on Sustainability press conference in Leverkusen, Werner Wenning noted that Bayer’s R&D expenditure is likely to rise next year from its 2009 level of 2.90 billion euros, most of which goes on healthcare. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Bayer board with responsibility for innovation, technology and environment, confirmed to PharmaTimes World News that a rise is likely but would not say by how much, as budget discussions are about to take place.

Much of what Mr Wenning had to say concerned Bayer’s partnerships for increased volumes of high-quality food and providing solutions in climate protection. However he also noted that “strong alliances for sustainable healthcare” are an integral part of its sustainability strategy.

In particular, he spoke of a pact with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium in the fight against malaria. He said the groups aim to assemble a new insecticide research platform for ‘public health products’ and develop new “resistance-breaking vector-control substances”.

“For the first time in Bayer's history”, Mr Wenning said, “we are opening up our substance library – one of the largest of its kind in the world – for public health purposes”. However this access only refers to the malaria project.

Dr Plischke noted that Bayer is also focusing on family planning, promoting sex education and providing access to contraceptives. The company is working alongside partners such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the German Foundation for World Population.

Bayer is also investing in programmes to tackle African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and tuberculosis, providing drugs free of charge. Arthur Higgins, head of Bayer Healthcare, told PharmaTimes World News that he was particularly excited by a collaboration with the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development – on the clinical development of a combination therapy using the active ingredient moxifloxacin manufactured by Bayer which could cut the existing treatment period of six months by a third.

Although the battle against the disease was believed to have been largely won, around nine million new cases of active TB are emerging each year and it is estimated that two million people die from it annually. ‘It’s a bigger killer than HIV,” Mr Higgins noted.

He noted that these types of projects are at an early stage but they represent a shift in focus to being a more socially responsible company, “which is our duty”. He noted that he met recently with chief executives of other leading drugmakers recently and discussions took place, which were “not complacent, nor cynical” as to how they can work with institutions such as the World Health Organisation to improve access to drugs.

Higgins keen to work more with NGOs
Mr Higgins, who is in his early 50s, is leaving Bayer in the first half of 2010 after Mr Wenning’s successor, Marijn Dekkers, joins the firm in January. There has been much speculation has to where Mr Higgins, an instrumental figure in turning Bayer’s pharmaceutical operations into a successful division, will now go.

Unsurprisingly, the Scot, who is also president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, is keeping his cards close to his chest. However, he told PharmaTimes World News that “now as I enter my golden years,” he sees his future moving towards working more with non-governmental organisations, shifting eventually to 75% of his time, and focusing on the social aspects of healthcare, while still being involving in the private sector. By Kevin Grogan in Leverkusen