A Call to Antimicrobial Arms

JAKARTA – In December, I reported the first findings of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which I chair. The news wasn’t good: Resistant infections already claim more than 700,000 lives a year. Unless action is taken, antimicrobial resistance will kill ten million people a year by 2050 – more than the number of people who currently die from cancer. It will also have a cumulative cost of at least $100 trillion, more than 1.5 times today’s annual global GDP.

We are not doing nearly enough to combat this danger. The world urgently needs new drugs to replace the antibiotics, anti-malarial regimes, anti-retroviral AIDS and HIV medications, and tuberculosis treatments that are losing effectiveness. But we do not invest enough in research and development. It is critical that we find new sources of funding to support the academic researchers and small companies whose discoveries are laying the foundations for tomorrow’s medicines.

That is why I am calling on international donors – philanthropic and governmental alike – to work with the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance to create a new fund to support R&D in this important area. The fund will provide grants for blue-sky science and act as a non-profit incubator for promising discoveries. Over the coming months, the Review will be working out the details of how such a fund could operate effectively.

The problem is straightforward: As valuable as scientific breakthroughs may be, it takes a lot of work to turn them into marketable drugs. And, because antibiotics generally produce low – and sometimes even negative – returns on investment for the pharmaceutical makers that develop them, many companies and venture capital funds steer clear. The Review is studying ways to align financial incentives for developing new antimicrobial drugs more closely with these medicines’ true social value.