More than 80 drug and diagnostic firms have united under a new commitment to tackle the antimicrobial resistance crisis, and also call on global governments to “go beyond statement of intent” and “take concrete action” to improve the business case for developing new antibiotics.

The groups have agreed a common set of principles and commitments, set out in a new Declaration released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that provide a roadmap guiding further collaborative efforts between industry, governments and NGOs in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The looming threat of AMR is now a high priority for global leaders, with some experts fearing that medicine could ‘return to the dark ages’ - with ten million lives lost every year and $100 trillion in lost productivity by 2050 - if the situation is not addressed. These fears were recently heightened with the discovery of bacteria resistant to ‘last-resort’ antibiotics in China.

The industry says global governments must now work hand-in-hand with companies to support investment in the development of products essential for the prevention and treatment of drug-resistant infections.

Better conservation of antibiotics and improved uptake of rapid point-of-care diagnostics to increase correct prescribing have been singled out as key priorities, as well as updating incentive structures within healthcare systems that directly reward doctors, pharmacists and vets for prescribing antibiotics in greater volumes.

The Declaration also asks that governments help develop new and alternative market structures providing more dependable and sustainable models for antibiotics - particularly in the form of R&D incentives that overcome the significant technical and scientific challenges inherent in the field - and commit the cash needed to implement them. New mechanisms must also ensure that the pricing of antibiotics better reflects their benefits, and novel payment models should reduce the link between the profitability of an antibiotic and the volume sold.

Industry commitments

On their part, companies have committed to: reducing the development of drug resistance, including through work to support antimicrobrial stewardship; increasing investment in R&D that meets global public health needs, with greater focus on research into new antibiotics, diagnostics, vaccines and other alternative treatments; and improving affordable access to high-quality antibiotics for all.

“Antibiotic resistance is the sort of global healthcare challenge that this industry should be using its expertise to tackle,” said Andrew Witty, GlaxoSmithKline’s chief executive. “I’m hopeful that today’s declaration will encourage governments to work with us on new economic models that can help to secure a new supply of antibiotics for the future.”

Also commenting on the Declaration, Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, noted that AMR “is beyond the capacity of any organisation or country to manage or mitigate alone,” and that “the challenges of AMR can be addressed only through collaboration and global collective action”.

The Declaration will be updated every two years.