A global collaboration including the pharmaceutical industry and public funders such as the European Investment Bank has committed to investing €870M ($1B) in tackling the growing crisis of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
So far, over 20 pharmaceutical companies globally have contributed to the fund, called the AMR Action Fund. They are joined by other organizations such as the World Health Organization, the European Investment Bank, and the UK charity Wellcome Trust.
The aim of the fund is to finance companies developing new antibiotics and bring two to four new antibiotics to patients by 2030. The fund is expected to begin operations later this year.
“The health and economic impact of antimicrobial resistance has become much clearer over the past few years and has been recognized as an international crisis by organizations such as the UN, WHO and G7, all highlighting the need for action,” explained William Love, founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the UK antibiotics developer Destiny Pharma, which voiced its approval of the new fund.
Antimicrobial resistance causes 700,000 deaths each year. The rapidly rising number of antibiotic-resistant infections are predicted to kill 10 million per year by 2050 if the problem is not addressed.
“The AMR Action Fund is of particular significance to the biotech sector as it is the first substantial response from big pharma despite many reports calling for further investment in antimicrobial development to tackle the global issue of antimicrobial resistance,” Love told me.
Biotech companies have a crucial role in antimicrobial drug development. Destiny Pharma is one of the companies that could benefit, as it is developing antibiotics with a novel mechanism of action that could fight resistance to traditional antibiotics in bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.
Developing antibiotics is a long, complex and expensive process. Many candidates fail clinical trials and never reach the market. European funding efforts such as a €135M investment fund from VC firm Novo Holdings have contributed to the early-stage development of antibiotics. The AMR Action Fund, in turn, will support the late-stage clinical development of novel antibiotics, which is the most challenging stage for which to raise cash.
When new antibiotics are approved, they are used sparingly to preserve their effectiveness and slow the development of resistance. But this does not give companies the revenues they need to maintain a robust antibiotic pipeline.
“There are a number of different approaches being investigated to address the limited return on investment some antibiotics face. These include reimbursing at a higher price, guaranteed advanced purchases, extended intellectual property protection and tradable patent extension vouchers,” said Love.
An example of alternative ways to reward biotech companies that develop antimicrobial drugs to combat antimicrobial resistance comes from the UK. After a new policy was introduced last year, companies are now paid based on how valuable their antibiotics are to the UK’s National Health Service rather than on how many are sold.
“More radical approaches have been discussed that include ‘play or pay’, which means that those companies which do not participate in antimicrobial drug development are taxed, or entirely government-funded antimicrobial drug development,” Love said.
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