Pilot Project in U.K. Helps to Spur Development of New Antibiotics to Thwart Superbugs

Innovative funding approach tied to public health value highlights need for action in the U.S.

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Pilot Project in U.K. Helps to Spur Development of New Antibiotics to Thwart Superbugs
Bacterial colonies culture
Gennaro Leonardi Getty Images

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

New antibiotics are essential for treating increasingly dangerous superbug infections caused by resistant bacteria. More generally, they are a pillar of modern medicine and pandemic response. However, not enough of these lifesaving drugs are in development, and pharmaceutical companies largely have abandoned pursuit of antibiotics. The comparatively low prices and sales volume often render the drugs unprofitable, especially when costly research and development are taken into account.

The innovative U.K. model addresses this problem by shifting the drug reimbursement payment paradigm: The government pays a fixed annual fee to companies that develop high-need antibiotics, regardless of how many prescriptions are issued.

Policymakers and industry leaders around the world should take note of the U.K.’s efforts and support similar approaches to address the broken antibiotics market. In the United States, that starts with passage of the Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act. The measure’s provisions include many parallels to the U.K. program. By changing the way in which U.S. government programs pay for urgently needed new antibiotics, this bipartisan legislation would jump-start development of lifesaving drugs and ensure that patients with resistant infections will have access to the treatments they need.

Without urgent action from policymakers to spur antibiotic development, growing resistance threatens to return the world to a pre-antibiotic era—when even a simple cut could be deadly. Economic incentives such as those in the U.K. subscription model and those proposed in the PASTEUR Act are crucial to protecting patients and preventing that fate.

David Hyun directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project.

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Economic Incentives Needed to Fix the Broken Antibiotic Market

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Antibiotic resistance, a critical public health and national security threat, requires a robust arsenal of novel drugs that bacteria won’t readily outsmart.