Could nationalized drug companies help mend the antibiotics market?


Economist, Lord Jim O’Neill, has suggested that nationalized or state-run drug companies could be the answer to the lack of investment in antibiotic development. This measure would be intended to ensure the development and production of new antibiotics aren’t linked to market forces.

Between 2014 and 2016 Lord O’Neill was Chairman of a Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a review commissioned by the UK government. The review developed innovative ideas to help the antibiotic market be more enticing, such as ‘prizes’ for new drug developers, a model that would see health providers pay for the right to access new medicines, and pricing antibiotics in a way that reflects their value to society.

Lord O’Neill stated that he also floated the idea of a publicly owned pharmaceutical company, commenting at a recent London press briefing: “I was told that was ridiculously naive because the pharmaceutical companies are the only ones that have the depth of manufacturing and distribution capability. It seems to me that’s not really getting us very far.”

In 1980 a total of 25 companies had active antibiotic development programs, however that has since dwindled to only three: Pfizer (NY, USA), MSD (NJ, USA) and GSK (Brentford, UK). Lord O’Neill stated that empty words from global policy makers and pharmaceutical companies meant he was thinking more about in effect nationalizing part of the pharmaceutical industry: “It leads me to think that some of the more radical ways of changing the risk-reward incentive and social circumstances of it now need to be explored more.”

Although new drugs will only form part of the global change needed to combat antimicrobial resistance, this could provide an innovative solution. Sheuli Porkess, deputy chief scientific officer at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said: “The pharmaceutical industry is hardly standing still in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. We have been working closely with the Government for the last 2 years and companies are ready and waiting to start testing a new model which will support antibiotics R&D this year.”

“We shouldn’t write off this plan before we’ve tried it.”

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