The NHS is set to roll out two new antimicrobial drugs, after they were acquired through a new subscription scheme. Under the agreement, NHS England pays a fixed annual fee to pharmaceutical firms, in return for the supply of new antimicrobial drugs.

The first deal has resulted in two drugs, called cefiderocol and ceftazidime–avibactam, manufactured by Shionogi and Pfizer respectively, NHS England reports. They will be used to treat patients with severe infections that will not respond to other types of antibiotics.

So called ‘superbugs’ are a growing worldwide problem, as pathogens are constantly evolving, and many are now resistant to existing antimicrobial treatments. This is a particular threat to patients with severe conditions such as sepsis, pneumonia, and blood stream infections.

Drugs manufacturers are often reluctant to invest in the research and development of antibiotics, because of the lengthy and unpredictable process involved, and the relatively low financial returns.

The subscription scheme was set up to encourage new innovation, and to mitigate the effects of antibiotic resistance, which is already thought to have caused 1.2 million deaths globally, according to research by a team from the University of Oxford.

Amanda Pritchard, CE of NHS England, said: “This world-leading agreement not only provides a template for other countries to follow, incentivising antimicrobial drug innovation globally, as we collectively deal with this threat to modern medicine and public health, but also gives new hope to thousands of patients who previously had no treatment options left.”

The NHS subscription scheme is thought to be the first of its kind in the world, and it is hoped that other healthcare providers will follow a similar plan. The yearly payments have been capped at £10m to ensure value for taxpayer’s money. It is hoped the new treatments already generated will help about 1,700 patients a year.

Paul Catchpole, value and access policy director at the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry, commented: “It lays the groundwork for rapidly establishing a permanent sustainable UK-wide solution for evaluating and reimbursing new antibiotics, which recognises the full value these treatments bring to patients, the NHS and society.”

He added: “This will allow the UK to play a full part, alongside the most developed economies, to incentivise further global innovation. While approaches may be different across regions of the world, taken together they must act as an appropriate global incentive if we are to effectively tackle the growing challenge of antimicrobial drug resistance”.

Untreatable pathogens not only lead to increased death rates, but they allow diseases to spread more quickly, increase the risk of major surgery, and cause longer hospital stays. They also increase the cost of healthcare and lead to lost productivity through sickness.

In the past, antibiotics have been overused or misused, and this has encouraged the spread of drug resistant viruses and bacteria. Any new antimicrobial drugs that are approved for use will be strictly controlled, in order to maintain maximum effectiveness and prevent resistant pathogens developing.

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