We never miss pharmaceutical companies until they are gone.

Lawsuits, terrifically expensive drug development cycles and trials coupled with a short window for sales before a drug is declared out of patent and therefore generic has meant companies are abandoning markets that are not lucrative, like antibiotics. Critics who believed drug companies were evil and greedy have found that government is incapable of doing applied research - and that is leaving a huge void.

Will another committee fix that? DRIVE-AB (Driving Reinvestment in R&D and Responsible Antibiotic Use) is a €9.4 million consortium that aims to define a standard for the responsible use of the dwindling reserve of effective antibiotics, and to develop, test and recommend new economic models for pharmaceutical industry investment in producing new ones.

In other words, after we spent decades criticizing companies and insisting drugs needed to go generic faster, a new group is going to say they would be under patent protection longer. 

The World Health Organization has identified antimicrobial resistance as one of the three greatest threats to human health. An estimated 25,000 people die each year in the European Union from infections that are resistant to multiple drugs. The annual societal costs are estimated at €1.5 billion, although the true economic and societal burden is unknown. New forms of resistance continue to emerge and spread, incrementally reducing doctors’ ability to bring infections under control.

Though there is a need for new antibiotics, no one wants to pay for them, so only two new classes of antibiotics have been brought to the market in the last three decades. It is a high-risk/low-return market, and that is without the lawyers lining up to sue.

DRIVE-AB is coalition of partners across 11 European countries from academic institutions, research organizations, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Over the next 3 years, they hope to create and test new economic models for antibiotic R&D to reinvigorate investments. They will also examine how the efficacy of existing and new drugs can be maintained and preserved by defining their responsible and appropriate use. The project brings together experience and knowledge spanning all phases of antibiotic R&D, financing, clinical use, antibiotic stewardship, quantitative economic modelling and evaluation of public health policies.  

Project leader, Stephan Harbarth, University of Geneva said “I am very excited about the ambitious DRIVE-AB agenda that will be delivered by uniting a unique panel of experts across a range of disciplines including medical, scientific, business and economic sciences across clinical, academic and commercial sectors. The dual crisis of antibiotic resistance and the near empty antibiotic pipeline pose a very real threat to human health. Only collaboration on this scale, involving stakeholders worldwide will be sufficient to address the crisis. I am confident the worldwide renowned expertise, motivation and diversity of the DRIVE-AB partners are an appropriate match for the complexity and scope of the problem to be confronted.” 

Project partners (in alphabetical order) are: British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Chatham House, Center for Anti-Infective Agents, Heidelberg University, London School of Economics and Political Science, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Radboud University Medical Center, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, University of Antwerp, University of Geneva, University of Lorraine, University of Rijeka Medical Faculty, University of Strathclyde, University of Tübingen, Uppsala University, Wageningen University and EFPIA members Astellas Pharma Europe LTD, AstraZeneca AB, Cubist Pharmaceuticals GmbH, GlaxoSmithKline Research&Development, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Pfizer Limited and Sanofi-Aventis Research & Development.

Source: University of Geneva