U.K.’s Cameron Forms Review Into Antibiotic Resistance

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is forming a panel of experts to review the threat of antibiotic resistance and why so few drugmakers are developing new medicines to address the problem.

The panel will be led by economist Jim O’Neill and include experts on science, finance, industry and global health, Cameron’s office said by phone.

The group will address issues such as the “market failure” where no new classes of antibiotics have been developed by drugmakers for more than 25 years, Cameron said in a BBC interview. Among possible solutions to be examined are financial incentives that have encouraged drugmakers to develop medicines for rare diseases, he said. Those have included long patents and high prices.

“They’ll need to look at how to create incentives so we solve this development problem of not having new classes of antibiotics coming onstream,” Cameron said.

The problem of antibiotic resistance has become so acute that a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries lead to death is a possibility this century, the World Health Organization said in April. Overuse of antibiotics among humans and farm animals is the main reason for this.

Antimicrobial resistance is a global health-security threat that requires cooperation among governments, especially on surveillance that generates reliable data to inform public health strategies, the WHO said.

Market Opportunity

While many companies stopped developing anti-infection drugs years ago to focus on more profitable chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, others are seeing an opportunity and a growing unmet need.

Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. aims to commercialize at least four new antibiotics by 2020 and plans to invest about $400 million on research in the area this year. The Lexington, Massachusetts-based company’s drug Dificid was approved in the U.S. in 2011 as the first new product for the hospital-based infection Clostridium difficile in 30 years.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the U.K.’s biggest drugmaker, has three antibacterials in development, with one of them to enter final-stage testing by next year.

Still, more work is needed.

“This is not just a scientific and medical challenge, but an economic and social one too,” said Jeremy Farrar, director of the London-based medical research charity Wellcome Trust, which is contributing 500,000 pounds ($858,000) to the review commission. “I am thus delighted that an economist of the stature of Jim O’Neill has agreed to investigate these issues, with an eye on the incentives, regulatory systems and behavioral changes that will be required to resolve them.”

Jim O’Neill is former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and is now a columnist for Bloomberg View.

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