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Call for $2 billion global antibiotic research fund
May 23, 2015, 12:19 pm
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The global pharmaceutical industry is being called on to pay for a $2 billion innovation fund to revitalise research into antibiotics. In return, there would be guaranteed payments to companies which produced vitally needed new antibiotics.

There are currently very few new antibiotics in development amid a global spread of resistant bacteria. The proposals are in a report by a UK government-appointed review team headed by economist Jim O'Neill.

Mr O'Neill said: "We need to kick-start drug development to make sure the world has the drugs it needs, to treat infections and to enable modern medicine and surgery to continue as we know it."

He has previously warned that drug-resistant microbes could kill 10 million people a year worldwide by 2050 and cost $100 trillion in lost economic output.

Resistant strains of bacteria are spreading globally, threatening to make existing drugs ineffective.

A global innovation fund of $2bn over five years would be used to boost funding for "blue-sky" research into drugs and diagnostics - with much of the money going to universities and small biotech companies.

One promising area of research concerns so-called "resistance breakers". These are compounds that work to boost the effectiveness of existing antibiotics - a far less costly approach than attempting to discover entirely new drugs.

Helperby Therapeutics, a spin-out company founded by Prof Anthony Coates, St George's, University of London, has created a resistance breaker that acts against the superbug MRSA.

The compound, known as HT61, will shortly go into clinical trials in India, where it is being developed under licence by Cadila Pharmaceuticals India.

The review team said this kind of research could benefit from the innovation fund and could be the key to making existing drugs last longer.

Mr. O'Neill said the big pharmaceutical companies should pay for the fund and look beyond short-term assessments of profit and loss.

Formerly chief economist with the investment bank Goldman Sachs, Mr O'Neill drew parallels between the banking crisis and the looming catastrophe of a world where antibiotics no longer worked. He said big pharma needed to act with "enlightened self-interest" because "if it gets really bad, somebody is going to come gunning for these guys just how people came gunning for finance".

Mr O'Neill was speaking to the BBC's Panorama programme, which has spent six months following the work of the review team, filming in India, the US and UK.

Mr O'Neill was appointed last year by Prime Minister David Cameron to head the review into antimicrobial resistance - which already claims an estimated 30,000 lives a year across Europe.

Many large companies have pulled out of antibiotic research. The report says this is partly due to the uncertain commercial returns for new antibiotics.

In order to incentivise drug development, the review team says, there should be lump-sum payments to companies that create proven new antibiotics. This would break the link between the profitability of a drug and its volume of sales.

The review team predicts its proposals could lead to 15 new antibiotics a decade, of which at least four should be "breakthrough products" targeting the bacterial species of greatest concern.

It estimates the cost of guaranteed payments for these drugs would be $16-37 billion over a decade but says this is a small price to pay given that antibiotics are essential to so many aspects of healthcare, from common infections, to surgery and cancer treatment.

 

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