Professor Dame Sally Davies
UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance
Infectious diseases are everyone’s business. That’s why treatments must be effective, accessible and equitable for patients who need them.
Effective antibiotics treat common infectious and historically life-threatening illnesses. They also enable safe cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants and caesarean sections.
Drug-resistant pathogens are emerging and spreading globally, threatening how effective our treatments are and rendering infections more complex and costly to treat. According to the World Health Organization, at least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant infections, though many of these are preventable.
The antibiotic market is broken
The cost of developing, registering and marketing antibiotics is high, but pricing has seen a race to the bottom. Pharmaceutical companies have few incentives to invest in antibiotics, seeing a net loss of $100m from 2014 to 2016.
Compounded by declining research and development investment into new antibiotics and increasing shortages of existing, cheaper generics, there are fewer drugs left in our medicine cabinet. In the noughties, more antibiotic molecules were made obsolete than were developed. This lack of innovation compromises access for patients and undermines modern medicine for every country.
Innovation will hopefully restock our global medicine cabinet. Globally, and as individuals, we’ll then need to handle antibiotics with care. AMR does not respect borders.
The UK is investing in innovation
The UK is one of the first countries in the world to trial a new system to secure a pipeline of innovative treatment options for NHS patients. The so-called ‘Netflix’ model will pay for antibiotics by subscription – based on an assessment of their value to society, not on the volume of pills used.
This approach benefits NHS patients by guaranteeing both sustainable use and sustainable supply of antibiotics by embedding stewardship and by giving companies certainty of revenue.
Now, we need global action
The UK project cannot deliver meaningful incentives for global investment on its own. We need more countries to implement similar innovative mechanisms, hopefully starting with the US’s PASTEUR Act, that would establish a de-linked payment model. Collectively, this would give the world’s healthcare systems the best chances of treating patients, securing a sustainable pipeline of treatment options for generations to come.
Scientific research and collaboration will accelerate solutions to the global challenge of AMR. The pharmaceutical industry is stepping up – through the AMR Action Fund, the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies are funding a sustainable pipeline of antibiotics.
Innovation will hopefully restock our global medicine cabinet. Globally, and as individuals, we’ll then need to handle antibiotics with care. AMR does not respect borders. Countries need to work together to prepare for infections, prevent and treat them.