This is long overdue. There are new drugs entering the pipeline – Wellcome is currently co-funding the development of over 40 new treatments and diagnostic tools through the CARB-X partnership, in which the UK and US Governments are also investors.
Yet these promising new innovations – almost all of them incubated in small biotechs – face a virtually impossible path to market. These small companies can take the development so far, but at present simply cannot attract the investment needed to take the costly steps required to translate discoveries into treatments.
To take these expensive, risky steps towards market, companies large and small should able to recoup their costs somewhere. Drugs are sold on a pill-by-pill basis, but any new antibiotics would be held in reserve and only used against the most serious superbugs, limiting the revenue that can be gained.
Higher prices would risk distorting the use of new products, either incentivising over-promotion or inhibiting access. The government’s new plan to pilot a subscription model, which pays developers a fee for the NHS to access antibiotics, rather than paying by volume, is exactly the sort of model that could fix this conundrum.