Pilot project in UK helps boost development of new antibiotics to thwart superbugs

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK recently announcement that two antibiotics will be the first to be made available to patients under a pilot payment model that rates drugs based on their public health value. This milestone marks a major success in efforts to spur antibiotic development.

New antibiotics are essential to treat increasingly dangerous superbug infections caused by resistant bacteria. More generally, they are a mainstay of modern medicine and pandemic response. However, too few of these life-saving drugs are in development, and pharmaceutical companies have largely given up on antibiotic research. Relatively low prices and sales volume often make drugs unprofitable, especially considering the expensive research and development.

The UK’s innovative model addresses this problem by changing the drug reimbursement payment paradigm: the government pays a fixed annual fee to companies that develop high-need antibiotics, regardless of the number of prescriptions dispensed.

Policymakers and industry leaders around the world should take note of the UK’s efforts and support similar approaches to tackle the stalled antibiotics market. In the United States, it begins with the passage of the PASTEUR law (Pioneing Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance). The provisions of the measure include many parallels with the British program. By changing how U.S. government programs pay for the new antibiotics they urgently need, this bipartisan legislation would kick-start the development of lifesaving drugs and ensure that patients with resistant infections have access to the treatments they need.

Without urgent action by policymakers to spur antibiotic development, growing resistance threatens to return the world to a pre-antibiotic era, where even a simple cut could be deadly. Economic incentives such as those in the UK subscription model and those proposed in the PASTEUR Act are key to protecting patients and preventing this fate.

David Hyun leads The Pew Charitable Trusts Antibiotic Resistance Project.

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