Drugs companies are rising to the challenges of research into superbugs
This letter was first published on the Financial Times on 4th July 2018, in response to the article titled “Pharma sector failing to tackle superbugs, says O’Neill” (26th June 2018)
I respectfully disagree with Jim O’Neill’s comments on pharmaceutical companies’ inaction on combating antimicrobial resistance (“Pharma sector failing to tackle superbugs, says O’Neill”, June 26). As published in the AMR Industry Alliance’s progress report, in 2016 companies invested at least $2bn in research and development to counter AMR. This figure, despite not representing the total industry investment, is substantial. A 2017 Boston Consulting Group report for the German government estimated that over the same period, governments made available a total of $500m for R&D for new antibiotics. Ten large R&D biopharmaceutical companies have reported to have relevant R&D activities. Pharmaceutical companies are not only active in R&D, but are taking many other tangible steps across the continuum of care — from prevention, monitoring and screening to treatment. One has to acknowledge that this is one of the most challenging innovation environments. Only 4 per cent of the infectious disease pre-clinical targets will ultimately be proven safe and effective enough to make it to the market. Furthermore, it is a fairly hostile economic environment. High-risk investments will be hard to sustain under current conditions where novel antibiotics will remain on the shelves as reserve, meaning there is very limited and unpredictable economic return on these products. A number of key stakeholders and influential reports have endorsed the need to urgently implement sustainable R&D incentives that reward successful anti-bacterial innovation. The economic impact of AMR is huge — estimates are of $100tn lower gross domestic product on a global level. Actions taken by governments to support innovation today have an immediate impact on companies’ investment and therefore also influence the development and availability of treatment options 10 or 15 years from now. We are encouraged by action taken last week by the US Congress in the introduction of legislation that offers the first substantial incentive for the development and introduction of new anti-infective medicines offered by any government to address AMR. The legislation offers an important model on how to sustainably incentivise end-to-end antibiotic and vaccine development, while balancing important public health stewardship provisions. Finding creative and sustainable solutions to AMR requires thinking outside the box and the full impact of industry’s efforts can only be made through collaborations with governments.