U.K. panel calls for innovation fund to break antibiotic discovery dam

A panel set up by the United Kingdom government to review antimicrobial resistance has called for the creation of a global innovation fund to spur the discovery of new drugs. The idea is to counter years of underinvestment by public and private players in basic to mid-stage scientific research.

Review chairman Jim O'Neill

The review foresees the overall antimicrobial resistance budget coming to "much less" than $75.6 billion (€66.1 billion)--0.1% of global gross domestic product--over the next 10 to 15 years. While the sum is eye-wateringly big for a field that attracted just $1.7 billion investment from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2010 to 2014, the panel sees it as a small price to pay to avoid the $100 trillion it estimates antimicrobial resistance will cost the world by 2050.

Currently, a lack of cash is acting as a handbrake on antibiotic discovery. "We found no shortage of ideas and promising new technologies but progress is too slow due to lack of investment and much of the workforce is edging towards retirement," Jim O'Neill, the former chief economist at Goldman Sachs who is leading the review, said in a statement. O'Neill sees the fund as a way to kickstart early-stage antibiotic R&D at academic institutions, public health bodies and biotechs.

The panel will tackle the arguably more fundamental problem of how to convince larger pharma companies to foot the bill for mid- to late-phase trials in its next report. A full set of recommendations is scheduled for the summer of 2016, by which time the panel hopes antimicrobial resistance will be a priority topic at the G-20. China will lead the G-20 in 2016 and O'Neill is visiting the country--and India--this year to drum up support.

- read the report (PDF)
- and the Financial Times' take