The stark warning was given at the launch of the “fighting fund”, set up to invest research into new antibiotics. It aims to address the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant infections - also called antimicrobial resistance, or AMR.
The pharmaceutical industry has, so far, invested US$1bn in the “AMR Fund” which aims to develop up to four new antibiotics by the end of this decade.
Thomas Cueni, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), one of the organisers of the new fund, admitted that the target was “ambitious” and that “patience” was needed.
The problem, he said, is that currently there is “no viable market” for new antibiotics.
But, speaking at the fund’s international launch on Thursday, he believes the fund will provide “much needed incentives” to support clinical research of “innovative” new antibiotics that might combat the most resistant bacteria and life-threatening infections.
The “AMR Action Fund” is backed by 20 pharmaceutical companies who, he said, have joined forces with philanthropies, development banks and multilateral organisations to “strengthen and accelerate antibiotic development.”
Cueni told a news briefing that AMR is a “looming global crisis” that has the potential to dwarf COVID-19 in terms of deaths and economic costs.
He said, “With Coronavirus we are already dealing with a huge problem and we have seen the huge impact of this. But we have not heard as much about AMR even though this is a huge problem too.”
“This is private industry working in collaboration with organisations like WHO and the Welcome Trust. We have already raised US$1bn from industry and I am optimistic that this will provide the incentive to fund clinical research into finding new antibiotics. I hope this fund will be a game changer” Thomas Cueni, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA)
He added, “There are 700,000 lives lost per year because of AMR ‘superbugs’ which are resistant to modern antibiotics. If this cannot be changed we may lose up to 10 million lives each year by 2050 which would be more deaths than from cancer.”
“This is not just a science problem but also an economic problem because there is no viable economic system for antibiotics.”
The world, the launch was told, needs new antibiotics to stem the toll superbugs are having on patients but there are few in the pipeline. Antibiotics are the “most powerful tool in healthcare but their ever-reducing efficacy is the result of a “long-standing paradox”.
Despite the huge costs of AMR there is currently no viable market for new antibiotics. The Fund, it was said, will focus on urgent public health needs and provide “much needed financial resources as well as important technical support” to help biotech companies develop novel antibiotics.
Cueni added, “We must act together to rebuild the pipeline and ensure that the most promising and innovative antibiotics make it from the lab to patients. The fund is one of the largest and most ambitious collaborative initiatives ever undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry to respond to a global public health threat”.
He said new antibiotics are “like fire extinguishers, a last resort which are not meant to be used.”
“But, since the late 1980s, there have been no new class of antibiotics brought to market and, rather than waiting, we are seizing the opportunity with this new action fund.”
“The reason we have invested in this fund is because we recognise this as a huge problem which needs to be addressed and quickly” Hubertus von Baumbach, chairman of the Board of Managing Directors at Boehringer Ingelheim
He explained, “We need new antibiotics and have got a big coalition together of 23 innovative companies who will work over the next 12 months to try and bring two to four new antibiotics to the market
“This is private industry working in collaboration with organisations like WHO and the Welcome Trust. We have already raised US$1bn from industry and I am optimistic that this will provide the incentive to fund clinical research into finding new antibiotics. I hope this fund will be a game changer.”
He went on to say that funding “will not” prioritise big pharma companies but, rather, start-ups and high tech companies “who see this fund as a lifeline.”
To emphasise the multi-nation/company backing the fund has attracted, the launch was announced at simultaneous virtual launch events in Berlin, Germany, and Washington, D.C. - with a range of pharma CEOs championing the plan.
Further comment came from David Ricks, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company and President of IFPMA, who said the AMR Action Fund will “sustain an antibiotic pipeline that is on the verge of collapse, a potentially devastating situation that could affect millions of people around the world.”
The AMR Action Fund, he says, will support innovative antibiotic candidates through the “most challenging later stages of drug development, ultimately providing governments time to make the necessary policy reforms to enable a sustainable antibiotic pipeline.”
Commenting, Hubertus von Baumbach, chairman of the Board of Managing Directors at Boehringer Ingelheim, said, “The reason we have invested in this fund is because we recognise this as a huge problem which needs to be addressed and quickly.”
“By 2050, deaths from AMR could rise to 10 million per year which is a staggering number. This puts an obligation on science, academia and industry to come up with new solutions so, given the current crisis, this is a good time to come up with this initiative and to support it” Stefan Oelrich, CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals
Further reaction came from Kasim Kutay, CEO of Novo Holdings, who told the briefing, “We are happy to join this initiative which we regard as highly complementary to what we are doing.”
Stefan Oelrich, CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals, noted, “Coronavirus poses an unprecedented challenge for public health but we must not forget that we also face other healthcare challenges which should not be neglected, including the lack of efficient antibiotics.”
“By 2050, deaths from AMR could rise to 10 million per year which is a staggering number. This puts an obligation on science, academia and industry to come up with new solutions so, given the current crisis, this is a good time to come up with this initiative and to support it.”
Also speaking at the launch, Stefan Oschmann, chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Merck, said, “We don’t do antibiotic research ourselves but we signed up to this fund simply because AMR is such a huge problem. It is going to be very important that, in future, we are prepared for such challenges as we face now. AMR may pose a similar threat in the future to what we face now.
“There are opportunities to better prepare ourselves but the issue of incentives remains a problem so we need to find new incentives systems too. Novel antibiotics should not be used on a large scale but should still be available.”
Speaking from Brussels, Natalie Moll, DG of EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, the body that represents the pharmaceutical industry in Europe, commented, “This crisis has shown the importance of innovation and having products we can use for new vaccines. We know all about the threat from AMR so we need to make sure we support these efforts.”
“Thanks to this fund we will, hopefully, be able to see successful outcomes. But we also need a new business model for AMR.”
“This crisis has shown the importance of innovation and having products we can use for new vaccines. We know all about the threat from AMR so we need to make sure we support these efforts. Thanks to this fund we will, hopefully, be able to see successful outcomes. But we also need a new business model for AMR” Natalie Moll, DG of EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this crisis and, for the future; we need the right incentives to support development of antibiotics that goes way beyond the life of this particular fund.”
Her comments were partly echoed by German Socialist MEP Tiemo Wölken, a vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Interest Group on AMR, who, speaking later in a panel session, said, “This fund is only a first step into the right direction. I know that this has to be team play.”
“For this reason, the AMR Interest group aims to push this topic during this legislation and put pressure on the European Commission to come up with a proposal that not only gives guidelines, but puts forward mandatory action.”
“Superbugs resistant to antibiotics not only threaten lives, they undermine every aspect of modern medicine. This is why we need to act now to safeguard the scientific achievements of the last century.”
He added, “COVID-19 has already put our healthcare systems under extreme pressure, but this could only be the foretaste of what we could expect from a world where antimicrobials are no longer effective.”