[Ip-health] BBC: Call for $2bn global antibiotic research fund

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 14 06:57:51 PDT 2015


Call for $2bn global antibiotic research fund

Fergus Walsh <http://www.bbc.com/news/correspondents/ferguswalsh>Medical

The global pharmaceutical industry is being called on to pay for a $2bn
(£1.3bn) innovation fund to revitalise research into antibiotics.

In return, there would be guaranteed payments to companies which produced
vitally needed new antibiotics.

There are currently very few new antibiotics in development amid a global
spread of resistant bacteria.

The proposals are in a report by a UK government-appointed review team
headed by economist Jim O'Neill.

Mr O'Neill said: "We need to kick-start drug development to make sure the
world has the drugs it needs, to treat infections and to enable modern
medicine and surgery to continue as we know it."

He has previously warned that drug-resistant microbes could kill 10 million
people a year worldwide by 2050 and cost $100 trillion in lost economic

Resistant strains of bacteria are spreading globally, threatening to make
existing drugs ineffective.

A global innovation fund of $2bn over five years would be used to boost
funding for "blue-sky" research into drugs and diagnostics - with much of
the money going to universities and small biotech companies.

One promising area of research concerns so-called "resistance breakers".
These are compounds that work to boost the effectiveness of existing
antibiotics - a far less costly approach than attempting to discover
entirely new drugs.

Helperby Therapeutics, a spin-out company founded by Prof Anthony Coates,
St George's, University of London, has created a resistance breaker that
acts against the superbug MRSA.

The compound, known as HT61, will shortly go into clinical trials in India,
where it is being developed under licence by Cadila Pharmaceuticals India.

The review team said this kind of research could benefit from the
innovation fund and could be the key to making existing drugs last longer.

Mr O'Neill said the big pharmaceutical companies should pay for the fund
and look beyond short-term assessments of profit and loss.

Formerly chief economist with the investment bank Goldman Sachs, Mr O'Neill
drew parallels between the banking crisis and the looming catastrophe of a
world where antibiotics no longer worked.
Innovation funding

He said big pharma needed to act with "enlightened self-interest" because
"if it gets really bad, somebody is going to come gunning for these guys
just how people came gunning for finance".

Mr O'Neill was speaking to the BBC's Panorama programme, which has spent
six months following the work of the review team, filming in India, the US
and UK.

Mr O'Neill was appointed last year by Prime Minister David Cameron to head
the review into antimicrobial resistance - which already claims an
estimated 30,000 lives a year across Europe.

Many large companies have pulled out of antibiotic research.

The report says this is partly due to the uncertain commercial returns for
new antibiotics.

New drugs are often kept in reserve for years, to preserve their potency,
by which time they may be nearing the end of their patent.

After this expires, cheaper generic versions are available.

In order to incentivise drug development, the review team says, there
should be lump-sum payments to companies that create proven new antibiotics.

This would break the link between the profitability of a drug and its
volume of sales.

The review team predicts its proposals could lead to 15 new antibiotics a
decade, of which at least four should be "breakthrough products" targeting
the bacterial species of greatest concern.

It estimates the cost of guaranteed payments for these drugs would be
$16-37bn over a decade but says this is a small price to pay given that
antibiotics are essential to so many aspects of healthcare, from common
infections, to surgery and cancer treatment.
US breakthrough

It is nearly 30 years since a new class of antibiotics - meaning a group of
drugs with an entirely novel action - was introduced.

But this decades-long drought could be over as a result of a breakthrough
recently announced by US scientists.

A team at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, has discovered
25 potential new antibiotics <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30657486>,
all of them derived from soil microbes.

One of them, teixobactin, is effective against both tuberculosis and MRSA.

The drug is being developed by NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals and should go
into patient trials within two years.

Prof Kim Lewis, of Northeastern University, who co-founded the company,
told Panorama: "We think there could be thousands more antibiotics in the
soil, yet to be discovered."

There are still many uncertainties.

Teixobactin has yet to undergo patient trials, and it is at this stage that
many promising drugs fail.

Nor is it effective against bacteria such as E.coli and Klebsiella, which
are responsible for a huge proportion of resistant infections.

But the Boston team's discoveries are the type of innovative research many
scientists believe essential to ensure we do not run out of effective

Patrick Vallance, GlaxoSmithKline's president of pharmaceutical R&D said
that, as one of the few companies still conducting antibiotic research they
welcomed the report: "We are very encouraged by the ideas it sets out to
modernise the economic model to encourage investment in research and ensure
reasonable returns."

Prof Dame Sally Davies, chief medical adviser to the UK government, said:
"We have to respond to the challenge of antimicrobial resistance by making
sure we secure the necessary antibiotics for generations to come, in order
to save millions of lives and billions of pounds."

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