It’s a global problem that could claim an additional 10 million lives a year, and the NHS and pharma need to work together to tackle it, say Jo Pisani and Alan Milburn

The UK is ill-equipped to respond to increasing resistance to antibiotics, which already results in 25,000 deaths per year in Europe.

With no new classes of antibiotics coming on the market for more than 25 years, how can the NHS and pharma companies work together to address the growing challenge antimicrobial resistance presents?

In December the O’Neill Review on antimicrobial resistance reported that unless action is taken to address this huge global problem, it could cost the world at least an additional 10 million lives a year by 2050 – more than the number of people who currently die from cancer.

Jo Pisani

Jo Pisani

It would also have a cumulative cost of at least US$100tr.

Development of new antibiotics is patchy across the pharmaceutical industry and there are only a few players with significant research and development projects in the pipeline. The financial rewards for creating a new antibiotic are low compared with other disease areas, such as oncology.

Proposed solutions to date have made some headway, but too often leave government or industry carrying significant, or in some cases, unrealistic risk.

Leaders, from the World Health Organization to David Cameron, have emphasised the need to act swiftly, but who will carry the responsibility if the issue isn’t addressed?

New business models, based on intra-industry collaboration and public private partnerships, are needed to overcome these challenges and ensure we have the drugs we need to keep the population healthy.

“The financial rewards for creating a new antibiotic are low compared with other disease areas”

There are valuable lessons we can learn from other areas. For example, the innovative risk sharing approaches to flood and catastrophe risk developed by the insurance industry and, closer to home, the commercial models for vaccines and financing mechanisms being explored around Alzheimer’s.

Some of the critical success factors in these models will be familiar to the NHS: a focus on rewarding outcomes and results rather than volume; strengthening collaboration across sectors; streamlining regulation; and promoting effective stewardship and governance.

Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn

Models must also support diversity in antibiotic targets and enable a reasonable return on investment, while recognising the societal benefits of developing new antibiotics.

Beyond the detail of these models, it is clear antimicrobial resistance is one of a growing number of areas where new ways of working are urgently needed between the NHS and the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

Neither the NHS nor our pharma industry can allow the issue to continue to be put in the “too difficult” box. Working together, and combining the best of our world leading pharma, life sciences industries and the NHS, we must tackle this growing problem head on.

Jo Pisani leads PwC’s UK pharmaceuticals and life sciences consulting team, and Alan Milburn is chair of PwC’s Health Industries Oversight Board