The UK as a global leader in antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance in the UK: The need, the challenge & the way forward

The Government wants the UK to become a leader in the development of products which tackle the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Despite the renewal of the 5-year AMR Strategy, there is no time to wait before driving new antimicrobial innovations into the mainstream. There must be leadership from the pharmaceutical industry to bolster support for smaller biotechnology firms to overcome the challenges that they face.

Medical need & innovation

Around 5000 of the 700,000 global deaths attributed to AMR every year occur in the UK. Without urgent action, AMR is likely to cause another 10 million deaths globally by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.

With large pharmaceutical companies halting investment in early stage antibiotic R&D, it has fallen to SMEs to fill the pipeline. Yet these companies face challenges such as sparse access to funding opportunities, protecting ownership of intellectual property and a challenging regulatory landscape.

“It is time for all of us to come together to find a solution that works”

Despite these obstacles, some SMEs are discovering novel antimicrobials, exploring new delivery mechanisms and thinking about solutions in different ways to offer more than conventional antibiotics.

These innovations are tackling huge health problems, including chronic non-healing wounds and their associated biofilms.

The development of new products is a sign that progress can be made. However, if the UK’s antimicrobial sector is to flourish, as the Government hopes it can, there is a need for renewed investment from both industry and Government.

The challenge for the pharmaceutical industry

If antibiotics are overused, bacteria can become resistant to them, so the Government is trying to reduce their use. The pharmaceutical industry has found itself in a cycle where antibiotics are repeatedly nullified but are not being sufficiently replaced. There have been no new antibiotic classes brought to market since the 1990s, nor any significant recent advances – there have been several introductions to market but few that are commercially viable. The cost is too high; the reward too little. Pharmaceutical companies struggle to justify spending in an area where the Government is pushing to reduce antibiotic use. Innovative new therapies that are suitably reimbursed may offer a way out of this problem.

10 million deaths by 2050

A global cost of £66 trillion

The recent renewal of the UK Government’s 5-year AMR Strategy could not come at a more pressing time. As Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer of the UK and global AMR champion, steps down, the UK must further its commitment to be a global leader in AMR, or risk missing its moment.

Two key announcements in the Strategy have shown that the UK is serious about AMR:

1. The commitment to trial a value-based pricing system to overcome market failure for antibiotics.
2. The commitment to make AMR a priority for the Accelerated Access Pathway, the hugely promising fast-track programme for bringing medical innovations to market.

In addition, however, the Government should aim to oil the industry machine, kickstarting the process of bringing innovations to market. This includes making processes as streamlined as possible for SMEs by:

The UK as a global leader

The UK has always had a global outlook when it comes to AMR. The focus has been not just to control in-country challenges, but to consider how it can impact developments on the world stage. This will continue and the biotechnology sector is well-placed to demonstrate leadership in the years ahead.
For this to happen, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry must be bold and aggressive in its investment in the space and pursue partnerships to extend research in drug discovery, delivery mechanisms and clinical research innovation.
To incentivise this, we must ensure that innovation is genuinely ground-breaking. There is a need to raise the bar at the end-point of clinical research to ensure that the best treatments are prioritised and that superiority over current treatments is demonstrated. In the value-based pricing system, this will be crucial in providing returns on investment.
It is time for all of us to come together to find a solution that works. Given the global market value of $40 billion, there is an opportunity waiting to be realised and the pharmaceutical industry must step forward, seize it and change the course of global health.

Alan Westwood is Managing Director of Matoke® Pharma.

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