Turning the tide on antibiotic resistance

Picture a world where people routinely die from minor infections, where invasive surgery like organ transplants can’t be performed because it’s too risky, and where hospital wards are breeding grounds for disease.

With an alarming rise in resistance in recent years to some of our most commonly used antibiotics, and few new antibiotics in development, this almost unthinkable scenario could be a reality.


It’s been estimated that 700,000 people per year are already dying from antibiotic resistant infections.

No new class of antibiotic has been developed in the past thirty years.  

Simply put, developing new antibiotics is very difficult, both scientifically and financially. Bacteria have evolved over millions of years to avoid attacks by chemicals. They rapidly adapt to hostile  environments, can double every 20 minutes and have mastered the art of evasion and resistance. All of this often creates the need for very large doses of antibiotics to ensure bacteria are effectively killed but it is very challenging to discover medicines that are both highly effective and sufficiently safe at these high doses. It’s little surprise, then, that failure rates are higher in antibiotic R&D than in most other areas.  Discovering and developing any medicine or vaccine is tough, but antibiotics is a phenomenally difficult area to be successful.

We have our own research unit focused on developing the next generation of antibiotics and an active pipeline of potential new medicines in development. The most advanced of these is soon to start the final phase of clinical trials. 

I can’t conceive of working for a pharmaceutical company aiming to improve human health, that doesn’t work on this major problem of new generation antibiotics.

Dr Patrick Vallance President Pharmaceuticals Research and Development, GSK

But we know we can’t overcome the threat of antibiotic resistance alone. Antibiotic research is one of the areas where we believe taking a more open-minded approach to sharing information and partnering with experts outside our labs is key. That’s why we were the first company to establish a public private partnership approach to antibacterial R&D in both Europe and the USA, to help address some of the key barriers to the discovery and development of new medicines. Some of these partnerships are also helping us to progress our new antibiotics so they can be countermeasures for bioterrorism.

And we want more companies to commit to this area, to work with us to help develop a new generation of antibiotics. To do this, we need to crack the financial conundrum that’s deterred critical investment in this area. We have been consistently vocal about the need for change and we’re very encouraged by the number of other companies active in this space that have shown a willingness to join together and work with governments in developing new frameworks for paying for antibiotics, that reward companies for their investment.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to human health we face today, but at GSK, we see this as a challenge, rather than a deterrent. Through a combination of our own expertise and smart, collaborative and innovative methods of working, we’re convinced we can develop innovative new ways of tackling bacteria, to protect human health for generations to come.

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