Head of External Affairs, AMR Action Fund
There’s no quick fix to antimicrobial resistance. But smart policies that encourage innovation and investment could give us a fighting chance against superbugs.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed the world how fast science can move. Not long after the pandemic was declared, the US Government launched ‘Operation Warp Speed’ — a nearly $20 billion effort that helped deliver a vaccine in record-breaking time.
Disparity in antibiotics response
However, Operation Warp Speed only succeeded because private investors had, for years, been pouring money into messengerRNA, the technology underlying some of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines. Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, Moderna had raised more than $1 billion from private investors and approximately $600 million more when it became a publicly traded company.
Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t garner that type of investor interest. Between 2011 and 2020, venture capital funds invested $1.6 billion in antibacterial companies compared with $16.6 billion in oncology companies, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
Governments around the world need to pursue policies that reward companies for successfully developing new antibiotics.
One reason for this disparity is because when a new antibiotic is approved, to conserve its effectiveness, it is held in reserve and used only when older, first-line antibiotics will not work. While this is good for public health, it severely constrains the commercial prospects of the drug. For most investors, putting their money into a company that’s doing high-risk research and development to yield a product that will have inherently limited sales just isn’t good math.
Attracting antibiotic investment
To help bring private investment back into this critical field of medicine, governments around the world need to pursue policies that reward companies for successfully developing new antibiotics, such as the proposed subscription models in the US or the UK. These types of incentives send a clear signal to the investment community that antibiotics are a viable opportunity and worth the risk.
Policymakers must act now because, without timely interventions, investors will continue putting their money into other therapeutic areas; antibiotic companies will go bankrupt; and patients will continue suffering. What we don’t want is to land in a situation where we must try to warp speed our way out of this crisis because we will almost certainly come up short, losing millions of lives in the process.