by GK Strategy 8th September, 2017
3 min read

Where’s the AMR? Bell’s missed opportunity

There was much for industry to love in Sir John Bell’s independent Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, published last week.

The comprehensive document, in response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper, contains wide-ranging and ambitious ideas to ensure the long-term success of the sector.

Yet while recommendations to support high-risk projects such as Digital Innovation Hubs and tax incentives will be essential aids to industry growth, R&D companies may have been puzzled by the glaring lack of any substantive ideas on how to address one of the greatest challenges facing global health systems today: anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

Apocalypse soon

The paper does recognise the magnitude of the challenge posed by AMR and the market failure to date to solve it – not least the lack of investor support – and one of its main recommendations is for government “to encourage AMR research”.

But this is a tepid statement in comparison to the scale of the issue.

It is hardly possible to overstate the threat that the “antibiotic apocalypse” poses to humans and livestock everywhere.

In comparison to its suggestions for improving health through genomics in medicine, early diagnostics and “Healthy Ageing”, its recommendations for AMR could be said to be ambiguous at best, and neglectful at worst.

Bell advises that support be provided through either “Government pull funding or direct investment” but does not go into any detail to suggest what this might look like – a noticeable contrast to other recommendations which are very detailed and well thought-out.

AMR research for growth

Those that say tackling AMR isn’t central to a strategy to boost industrial growth miss the point.

Without effective antibiotics and diagnostics, there would be a knock-on effect on all other areas of life sciences which try to improve population health.

Similarly, a proper solution to AMR could help bring together several of the seven themes of Bell’s strategy – including skills, NHS collaboration and “reinforcing the UK science offer”.

The first company to develop a new antibiotic could enjoy market dominance seen by the likes of AbbVie’s Humira, the world’s best-selling drug.

But solely developing new antibiotics would not be enough, with pathogens gradually developing resistance to new drugs. As well as behavioural change, it is essential to encourage research into alternatives to antibiotics, whether they be chemical, biological, or genomic, in human and animal health, food security and agriculture.

Public-private partnership

The O’Neill Review in 2014 was the first modern strategy commissioned by the Government on AMR, yet progress has been slow to realise its vision. Unlike Bell’s strategy, O’Neill recognised that industry incentives are critical, and recommended a “market entry reward” of around £890m to any company able to develop a new antibiotic.

While there is still plenty the Government can do to address the looming AMR crisis, such as encouraging and enforcing hand hygiene, it will also require the buy-in of industry to move forward.

Bell’s report missed the opportunity to demonstrate this, which perhaps illustrates just how far we still have to go.


For information about how we can raise your profile in the health sector, get in touch with ilana@gkstrategy.com

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