More than 80 pharmaceutical companies have called on governments to develop new ways of paying them to develop antibiotics.
In a joint declaration, at the World Economic Forum, they said the value of antibiotics “does not reflect the benefits they bring to society”.
In return, they have promised to invest in research and improve access to antibiotics around the world.
Signatories include GSK, Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
There have been repeated warnings the world is on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era”, raising the prospect of untreatable infections.
It would be a world in which surgery and cancer therapies, reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat.
Drug-resistant microbes are predicted to kill 10 million people a year by 2050 and cost $100 trillion in lost economic output.
Yet there has not been a new class of antibiotic brought to market, against Gram negative bacteria, for more than four decades.
The declaration says the current approach has “largely failed” despite the investment of billions of dollars.
It also sites the “formidable” scientific challenges that have led to many pharmaceutical companies pulling out of antibiotic research.
One of the biggest issues is money – at the moment, a company is paid only for the drugs it sells.
Yet any new antibiotic would probably be used only as a last resort, so companies would not recover the development costs.
Cash up front
A report by economist Jim O’Neill had suggested lump-sum payments should be given to companies that created proven new antibiotics, estimating the cost to governments would be $16-37bn over the next decade.
The declaration, from 85 companies, calls “for governments to commit funding and support the development and implementation of transformational commercial models that enhance conservation of new and existing antibiotics” as well as creating a “sustainable and predictable” market for new drugs.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said: “The declaration’s call for collaborative action on new commercial models is timely.
“Industry is ready to engage with governments to develop alternative market structures to enable the sustainable investment that is necessary if we are to overcome the formidable technical and scientific challenges of antibiotic discovery and development.”
Redx Pharma Plc chief executive Neil Murray said: “There is a doomsday clock ticking, with the effectiveness of antibiotics diminishing at an alarming rate.
“New ways must be found to support innovation and drug discovery in this critical area.”
World Health Organization director general Dr Margaret Chan said: “Antimicrobial resistance is beyond the capacity of any organisation or country to manage or mitigate alone.
“WHO and its member states have called for the development of new antimicrobial medicines and affordable access to them, in line with the global action plan on antimicrobial resistance.
“This declaration affirms that the challenges of antimicrobial resistance can be addressed only through collaboration and global collective action.”