The NHS is offering two contracts to pay pharmaceutical companies at the start of their work for access to antibiotics, incentivising them to bring new classes of the drugs to patients across the UK

To help secure much-needed alternative treatment options for NHS patients, the UK government will be launching a pioneering scheme that incentivises pharmaceutical companies to invest in research and development of new antibiotics.

Pharmaceutical firms will be offered upfront payments at the start of their work to find new antibiotics for treatment of serious infections, such as bloodstream infections, sepsis and hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Under the subscription-style payment programme, drug companies will be paid upfront for access to their antibiotic, based on a product’s value to the NHS rather than how much is used, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.

The government decided to offer companies “a vital springboard to foster innovation and develop potentially life-saving new products” because the high cost and low returns associated with antibiotic research and development makes it commercially unattractive.

Announcing the scheme on Wednesday (June 17), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The incredible discovery of antibiotics nearly 100 years ago transformed the health of our nation and our ability to combat infections. Diseases that were once a death sentence are now treated in just one small step.

“But resistance to antibiotics is increasing and it’s imperative we take urgent action on a national and global scale to protect future generations.”

Two drugs proven to be both safe and effective will be selected to undergo health technology assessment (HTA) by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence throughout 2021. The assessment will determine the level of subscription payment for the pharmaceutical.

The selection process has been designed to favour products which meet a key need in the UK while also addressing disease areas of international importance. Products will be selected by the end of this year, and these selected products will progress to the HTA stage in 2021 to estimate the value of each product to the NHS.

The UK is the first country in the world to announce it will test innovative models that pay companies for antimicrobials based primarily on a health technology assessment of their overall value to the NHS, as opposed to the volumes used.

Professor Gill Leng, Chief Executive, NICE, said: “We are witnessing the effects of one global pandemic, which has highlighted the threat of communicable disease. Alongside the threat of coronavirus is the increasing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance, exacerbated by a sparse antimicrobial development pipeline.”

Contracts for the two antibiotic products are due to start in April 2022.

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