What are pharma companies doing to slow the superbugs? New report out soon.
Superbugs threaten to cause the next pandemic. On Thursday 18 November, the Access to Medicine Foundation will publish the 2021 Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark, which will provide the latest deep dive into whether pharmaceutical companies are doing enough to curb drug resistance.
- In scope: eight Big Pharma companies and nine major producers of generic medicines.
- The analysis tracks R&D pipelines for high-risk pathogens, antibiotic manufacturing practices, and actions to ensure antimicrobial medicines and vaccines are accessible and used responsibly.
- Drug resistance is a global threat, with at least 70% of bacteria already showing some level of resistance.
- People in low- and middle-income countries face the highest risk from drug-resistant infections, as demonstrated by a comparison of resistance rates in 41 countries for 15 pathogens.
Driven by natural selection, drug resistance is inevitable. When we expose the bacteria around us to antibiotics, we kill off the weak ones while allowing the drug-resistant ones to survive.
Bacteria can swap genetic material with each other, which accelerates the spread of resistance. For example, the MCR-1 gene spread globally in less than a decade, giving bacteria including strains of E.coli and Salmonella resistance to the antibiotic colistin. At least 70% of bacteria already have some level of resistance.
Resistant bacteria are more likely to be found in low- and middle-income countries. Yet many millions more people, mainly in low- and middle-income countries, die each year from a lack of access to medicine than from resistant infections .
What action can pharma companies be expected to take?
The emergence of drug resistance can be slowed down. Pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play – through R&D, in their manufacturing practices, and by taking measures to ensure medicines are being used responsibly while ramping up efforts to increase access for those who face the greatest risk from life-threatening infections. The industry's efforts to slow antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have been tracked for more than five years by the Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark.
On Thursday 18 November, the latest Benchmark report will provide a new assessment of pharmaceutical company action to halt the superbugs. It will assess 17 companies that produce and supply much of the world’s antibiotics and antifungals.
"While the essence of the AMR challenge has not changed in the past five years, there is a greater sense of urgency to address this problem now, and there are clear signs that the pharmaceutical industry is responding." – Jayasree K. Iyer, Executive Director, Access to Medicine Foundation.
On the day of publication, the findings from the 2021 Benchmark will be presented at an event co-hosted by the Access to Medicine Foundation, the FAIRR Initiative, the Principles for Responsible Investment and the UK Government Department of Health and Social Care. Keynote remarks will be delivered by Professor Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance.
What does the 2021 Benchmark cover?
Nine generic medicine manufacturers and eight large research-based pharmaceutical companies.
R&D pipelines targeting high-risk bacteria and fungi designated by WHO and/or the CDC as posing the greatest threat from drug resistance.
166 medicines and vaccines, including both on-patent and off-patent products.
The access metrics cover countries meeting the following criteria: (1) national income level; (2) level of development; (3) scope and scale of inequality; (4) infectious disease burden.
Tracking pharma's AMR response since 2017
The Access to Medicine Foundation published the first Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark in January 2018. It established a baseline assessment of the pharma industry's actions on AMR. The first update to this analysis, the 2020 Benchmark, found signs of improvement in how pharma companies were responding to drug resistance, although not at the pace of change required to meet the scale of the challenge:
- More companies were taking steps to reduce the risk of overselling antibiotics and antifungal medicines to healthcare practitioners, including Cipla and MSD.
- Companies were found to be sharing what they know about the spread of resistance, with Pfizer setting the pace by publicly sharing its raw data.
- There were signs of movement in access and stewardship planning in R&D, from a low base. One of the promising candidates supported by such plans was gepotidacin from GSK, a novel candidate for the treatment of bacterial infections including N. gonorrhoeae.
How the Benchmark assesses companies
In order to fairly compare these diverse companies, the Benchmark methodology was developed through consultation with leading experts in AMR and on industry, including from the WHO, the private sector, civil society including NGOs, research organisations, academia and investors. This latest research follows a report published by the Foundation in June 2021, which assessed the challenges and opportunities faced by smaller biotechnology companies active in antibiotic and antifungal R&D.
About the Benchmark
The Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark provides the only independent measure of how pharmaceutical companies are responding to treatment-resistant bacterial and fungal diseases. It is funded by UK AID, the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Wellcome Trust and AXA Investment Managers.
About the Access to Medicine Foundation
The Access to Medicine Foundation, which publishes the AMR Benchmark, as well as the Access to Medicine Index, is an independent non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands. It aims to advance access to medicine in low- and middle-income countries by stimulating and guiding the pharmaceutical industry to play a greater role in improving access to medicine. We engage with pharmaceutical companies directly, as well as with donors, NGOs, governments and the investorcommunity, to improve companies’ long-term thinking on access to medicine and AMR and to increase the application of best practices.
For more information, contact: Suzanne Wolf