The messages which that National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is sending the pharmaceutical industry over the lack of new antibiotics are both that  “you’ve walked away from this, you are not doing enough research on it,” and also that “we are not going to pay for it,” says the head of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Stephen Whitehead. 

“NICE at times sends very difficult signals to my industry,” but such signals are pivotal because they drive R&D, and the right one for antibiotics R&D would be to charge properly for these treatments, Mr Whitehead told a recent Westminster Health Forum (WHF) conference.

‘The easiest solution to the antibiotic problem is to say to the industry: ‘we’ll pay a lot of money for this, and we will steward it properly’,” he told NICE, and added: “if you charge as much for an antibiotic as you do for chemotherapy, let me tell you it will be prescribed very infrequently, in the most critical needs.”

Meantime, a new survey shows that 74% of the UK public believe that a major R&D effort is needed to create new antibiotics for fighting infectious disease.

The poll, commissioned from Ipsos MORI by the Royal Society of Chemistry, also found that 63% of people believe that R&D efforts should be carried out with support from a combination of public and private interests. The Society is calling on the government to establish public/private programmes in antimicrobial R&D to facilitate this and to enable the fight against future infectious disease epidemics. 

The poll, which was commissioned to mark European Antibiotics Awareness Day and the opening events of Chemistry Week, also found an alarming lack of understanding of what antibiotics are effective against, particularly among younger people. A quarter of 15-24-year-olds think antibiotics are used to treat colds and flu, while 47% of people aged 15-24 and 50% of those aged 25-34 believe that they work to treat viral infections such as shingles or ear infections.

“As antimicrobial resistance has increased in recent years, it is those young people who stand the great chance of being affected when our current crop of antibiotics is no longer effective,” says the Society.

Each year, GPs prescribe 35 million courses of antibiotics in England alone, while over six million doses are given in UK hospitals every day, it adds.