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Will the Global Need for Antibiotics Outpace that for Profit Margins?

On the 30th of April 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released an analytical report following an in-depth investigation on the effect of antibiotic resistance across a panel of 114 countries. The report lays emphasis on seven bacteria responsible for common infections, which have quickly evolved to pose a threat to human life due to the development of antibiotic resistance. One of the key findings of the report was the assertion that there has been little or no global scientific development for new antibiotics spanning over the last 25 years. This understandably raises concerns on the need for scientific innovation, as there is limited antibiotic development on the horizon.

The dismal effects of antibiotic resistance are felt worldwide thus making it a global malaise. Focusing on the European Union, this accounts for 25,000 deaths per year, 2.5 million extra hospital stays with an annual fiscal cost of €1.5billion. The WHO report highlights the need for policy makers and industry to help tackle the resistance by fostering innovation, research and development of new drugs. Promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders will ultimately support this cause. As stated by Dr Jennifer Cohn from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), this report should serve as a “wake up call to governments to introduce incentives for industry to develop new, affordable antibiotics that do not rely on patents and high prices and are adapted to the needs of developing countries.”

A general, albeit wide-eyed, consensus reveals that the lack of antibiotics is neither a medical nor pharmaceutical problem, but rather an economic one. It is of key importance to note that there is no consistent difference between the costs of developing an antibiotic as compared to a cardiovascular or diabetes medication. However, the argument arises because of the lower return on scientific investment, as antibiotic research generates relatively lesser revenue.

In view of these dilemmas, the appropriate industry, as well as government hierarchies need to reset their priorities so as to directly allocate more resources for key areas of research and development that lack obvious investment return. This could be in the form of greater incentives and higher subsidies for pharmaceutical bodies and/or general public outreach regarding the relevance of antibiotics in day-to-day health.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is engineering a related proposal by bringing together key personnel in academia, biotech organizations and pharmaceutical companies. Through these collaborations, mostly government-funded, notable enterprises such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Sanofi will begin research towards antibiotic resistance. Janssen Global Public Health, a branch of Johnson & Johnson set up in August 2013, is a similar rising entity focused on fostering collaborations to harness the best scientists and partners to tackle neglected diseases and unmet medical needs whilst ensuring sustainable and affordable access to such treatment. Such investments in research aimed to improve the lives of humans with little or no profit-seeking motives are highly credible, but can they be sustainable?

The Northwest Biotech Initiative’s first event of the year will bring together prominent stakeholders in the biopharmaceutical industry, academia and global health sector to discuss an eminent concern:

“Will the global need for antibiotics outpace that for profit margins?”

In this discussion led by NBI, an expert panel is invited to elucidate on their perspectives of the task at hand as well as plausible solutions to ensure that these initiatives on the rise remain sustainable. With increasing recognition of the antimicrobial resistance crisis, we discuss how to make these drugs an attractive prospect to pharmaceutical companies and what the future holds for treatment of infectious diseases.

On Wednesday, 15th October 2014 at 5:30 PM, the Northwest Biotech Initiative will host the following panel of speakers at the University of Manchester:

Professor Jayne Lawrence

Dr Richard Bax

Dr Keith Williams

(KW Drug Developments & Boyd Consultants)

Dr Andrew Ratcliffe

For more information on how to join the discussion, please register for the event here.

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