The deal may raise some eyebrows considering GSK’s massive corporate resources and recent controversies surrounding the company’s marketing practices and safety procedures. Last year, GSK plead guilty to criminal charges for promoting off-label drug use and not reporting safety data for a popular diabetes medication. The British drug maker also paid $3 billion to the Justice Department in a fraud settlement.
But officials consider the unusual arrangement between GSK and the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) necessary because pharmaceutical companies have few financial incentives to invest in antibiotic production:
The problem of antibiotic resistance and the rise of so-called “superbugs” that cannot be treated with traditional medicines has been growing for years, but drug companies have been reluctant to invest in new medicines because of poor returns.
Patients tend to take antibiotics for only a short period, prices are traditionally low and any new antibiotics are likely to be reserved for serious infections – once again minimizing the sales opportunity.
David Payne, head of GSK’s antibacterial discovery unit, said public-private partnerships, like the one with BARDA, were a key part to solving the problem.
The government’s decision reflects just how concerned public health officials are about the rise of so-called “superbugs” such as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Some scientists predict that CRE alone could kill half of all people who contract it since it can withstand even the toughest antibiotics.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, has recently warned that without the production of effective new drugs to fight these types of bacteria, the human species could be looking at a world in which seven percent of all hospital admissions stem from a drug-resistant infection — a problem that she has compared to global warming in its scope and potential to undermine worldwide health. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” she told England’s The Independent.