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Public Sector Crucial To Drug Research, Says Astrazeneca

From Guardian (UK) (October 11, 2010)

AstraZeneca’s chief executive will this week urge ministers to work with the pharmaceutical industry to share the risks and costs in developing effective antibiotics and other treatments.

Speaking on public-private partnerships at the Asian Business Leaders conference on Wednesday, David Brennan will stress the importance of public sector bodies and NGOs teaming up with pharmaceutical groups to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.

"I’m clear that the most certain way for us to create value for our shareholders is by doing something useful or of value for patients," Brennan will say.

Governments are keen to accelerate research on antibiotics after decades of neglect. Pharmaceutical companies and governments have blamed each other for the paucity of new drugs to help combat hospital superbugs and other diseases.

"I know, in the past, some NGOs and public sector bodies have worried [that] our aims are incompatible with their approach," Brennan will say. "I think that view is now changing. Increasingly both public and private sector organisations are recognising that by working together we can make a bigger contribution to tackling some of the world’s biggest problems."

Pharmaceutical groups are collaborating with universities, biotech companies and even rival drug makers to share expertise and costs. Last year AstraZeneca formed more than a hundred new partnerships.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "If we think [a treatment is] not commercially viable, we can give it to somebody in the public sector who is willing to spend money to develop it."

In his speech, Brennan points to antibiotic resistance as an area where partnerships offer real potential. The discovery of antibiotics 70 years ago revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infections and saved millions of lives. But what were once regarded as miracle medicines are losing effectiveness as the bacteria they are fighting have become resistant to them.

The rapid spread of multi-drug-resistant bacteria led the medical journal The Lancet: Infectious Diseases to ask in August "Is this the end of antibiotics?"

Brennan admits that in the past 30 years, only two new classes of antibiotics have been developed.

Margaret Hamburg, commissioner at the US Food and Drug Administration, said last week that "the range of new antibiotics is disturbingly limited".

Many pharmaceutical companies have stopped investing in the development of antibiotics because they do not regard them as a lucrative area, given the speed at which bacteria build up resistance to these drugs.

Along with Novartis and Merck, AstraZeneca is one of few companies that are investing in the area. The Anglo-Swedish group last year bought Novexel, a French firm spun off from Sanofi-Aventis, which specialises in treatments for infections that have become resistant to antibiotics.

AstraZeneca is one of only a handful of companies investing in the development of antibiotics to tackle drug-resistant bacteria


Posted: October 2010