The MEP Interest Group on AMR organised a forward-looking discussion on the current state and prospects for the future of the antibiotic innovation pipeline as part of their series of webinars leading up to European Antibiotic Awareness Day. The discussion, hosted by Tiemo Wölken MEP, featured key expert speakers, including; Tim Jinks from the Wellcome Trust, Helle Aagaard representing ReAct Europe, Willo Brock of the TB Alliance, and Marc Gitzinger on behalf of the BEAM Alliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of the serious threat that emerging infectious diseases can pose to human health and our economies. Antibiotics are vital medicines in the treatment of bacterial infections. Without them, common infections that we can treat today would become fatal tomorrow. Treatments such as chemotherapy, diabetes management, major surgery or organ transplantation would put patients at increased risk. Antimicrobial resistance or AMR, the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria, is now a key cross-border health threat for Europe and the world. In Europe only, AMR causes the annual death of 33,000 people and costs €1.5 billion in terms of healthcare costs and productivity losses.
Exposing a clear market failure, the current antibiotic innovation pipeline is broken. The last antibiotic class to be successfully introduced as a treatment was discovered back in 1987. Indeed, new antibiotics are often associated with lack of profitability for pharmaceutical companies as their development is costly and their lifespan on the market is short due to resistance development. There is therefore a need to support needs-driven models to finance and stimulate antibiotic R&D.
Furthermore, despite the current dysfunctions, the sharp increase in global antibiotic consumption that is not always justified does not help the situation. It is estimated that up to 50% of all antimicrobials consumed in human health care may be inappropriate. Thus, we should, for instance, rethink the economic model so that revenues are not dependent on the volume of sales as a way to ensure both affordability and rational use for conservation of effective antibiotics.
In the political arena, there has been progress. The European Commission published its proposal for a Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe last month, which aims to improve patients’ access to safe and affordable medicines and to support the industry in promoting innovation and research to fulfill patients’ needs. In its roadmap, the Commission acknowledged the limitations of science and the lack of interest from industry to invest in the development of novel antimicrobials. The strategy also aims to support stakeholders to address market failures and facilitate the needs-driven development of new products.
MEPs have signaled their involvement and concerns on AMR by publicly highlighting the issue in their joint letter to the European Commission, while the pharmaceutical industry has recently launched a US$1 billion AMR Action Fund with the aim of bringing 2 to 4 new antibiotics onboard by 2030.
The discussion offered several perspectives and much food for thought. In succession, the speakers explained the need for more robust and more resilient innovation systems, to ensure global and sustainable solutions to AMR. Dr Aagaard emphasized the importance of an End-to-End approach, where the EU should invest in global governance mechanisms and tackle R&D barriers, among others, in order to set global priorities on the most significant and unmet global health needs. Dr Brock, meanwhile, offered detailed insights on Drug-Resistant TB, illustrating through real-world data and cases studies the impacts of AMR and DR-TB on global health. Finally Dr Gitzinger shared key analytical elements, and called for a greater focus on SMEs, still under-represented despite their central role in the antibacterial innovation ecosystem.
Together, the panelists answered questions from the audience touching on current legislative proposals, parallels between AMR and orphan drugs or cancer treatments, viability of current economic models and real access to medicines, highlighting the high degree of interest and concern.
MEP Wöelken in closing the meeting, reminded everyone that just as we need a joint response to COVID19, no country can solve AMR alone, but as a union we should make a start to ensure that research is better integrated into health policy. He pledged that the MEP Interest Group on AMR will continue to do its utmost to ensure that policy makers step up to the challenge.