A UK government-commissioned review of antimicrobial resistance is calling on big pharma to help fund a $2-billion innovation pot to drive the search for new antibiotics.

It’s been almost 30 years since a new class of antibiotic has hit the market, and the report, led by ex Goldman Sachs chairman Jim O’Neill, highlights the huge gap between the need for novel antibiotics to overcome rapidly rising levels of antimicrobial resistance and what is actually in R&D pipelines. 

To make antibiotics R&D commercially sustainable, the report is calling for lump-sum payments from a global reimbursement fund to successful drug developers, set against selective criteria agreed in advance. 

This would cut the link between profitability and sales, “eliminating the commercial imperative for a drug company to sell new antibiotics in large quantities – a key factor in contributing to the development and spread of resistance”, it argues.

A more stable commercial end market for antibiotics should, over time, encourage investment into the earlier stages of the pipeline. But to kick-start a new innovation cycle big pharma should help establish with a new global AMR Innovation Fund of around $2 billion over 5 years to “get more good ideas off the ground”. 

Major pharmaceutical players must “look beyond short-term assessments of profit and loss, and act with ‘enlightened self-interest’ in tackling AMR, recognising that it has a long term commercial imperative to having effective antibiotics, as well as a moral one,” the report stressed. 

Ten million deaths a year

After all, if the situation remains as it is, by 2050 AMR will be the cause of $100 trillion in lost productivity and ten million deaths every year, experts believe. 

But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has called for more details on how these funds will work, as well as on the potential gaps these funds would leave unaddressed. 

"For example, while the Global Innovation Fund would encourage early stage research and development, this would yield new treatments years from now. It is therefore important to also recognise the value of existing antibiotics and those in late stages of development," the Association said in a statement, also noting that there are "issues to resolve about how the global reimbursement fund will work – who will pay for it? How will new antibiotics be judged to be of sufficient value to access the fund?".