Big Pharma joins forces on $1B fund to shore up struggling antibiotics makers

Antibiotics
In January, the World Health Organization took Big Pharma to task for a dearth of innovation in spite of the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance. (Getty/MJ_Prototype)

A who’s who of Big Pharma companies, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, has banded together to bolster the development of new antibiotics. The companies announced Thursday the $1 billion AMR Action Fund, which aims to see two to four new antibiotics through approval by 2030.

Through the fund, named for antimicrobial resistance, the pharma companies will work with charities, development banks and other organizations to ramp up antibiotics development. And they won’t just contribute cash—they’ll also offer their technical know-how to help young biotechs advance new antibiotics.

“With the AMR Action Fund, the pharmaceutical industry is investing nearly $1 billion to sustain an antibiotic pipeline that is on the verge of collapse, a potentially devastating situation that could affect millions of people around the world,” said David Ricks, CEO of Eli Lilly and president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, which helped organize the fund.

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“The AMR Action Fund 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,” Ricks added.

RELATED: Despite looming resistance crisis, Novartis ducks out of antibiotics research

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been looming for some time, but there have been very few antibiotics approved over the last 30 years. One of them was Nabriva’s Xenleta, the first in a new class of antibiotics called pleuromutilins for community-acquired bacterial-pneumonia, which scored an FDA nod in August 2019.

In January, the World Health Organization took Big Pharma to task for a dearth of innovation in spite of the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance. In two reports, it highlighted a “weak pipeline for antibiotic agents” bringing “little benefit over existing treatments.” Unless the industry changes what it’s doing, the World Bank estimates antimicrobial resistance could cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050.

Despite the obvious need for new types of antibiotics, pharma companies including Novartis, AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly have backed away from antimicrobials research, partly because it’s difficult to develop new classes of drugs and partly because there is little to no ROI in the space given antibiotics should be used sparingly to keep drug-resistant bugs at bay.

Small biotechs have tried to step in and fill the gap, but they tend to struggle for the same reasons. In the span of one year, antibiotics makers Aradigm, Achaogen, Melinta and Tetraphase all filed for bankruptcy protection; all but Melinta had approved products.

The AMR Action Fund will be up and running by the fourth quarter, but it acknowledged that it’s just one part of the solution.

“[Policymakers] across the globe must enact market-based reforms, including reimbursement reform and new pull incentives, to revitalize the antibiotics market and drive sustainable investments in antibiotic R&D,” it said in the statement. “Until then, the biopharmaceutical industry is taking action now to support the current pipeline of antibiotics.”

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