Research Profile

Friday, 10 January 2014

Antibiotic resistance & making medicines in Britain

The new Director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar is right to highlight the ticking bomb of antibiotic resistance and reminds us of the perils that we face if we continue to ignore this emerging public health issue (Britain is reaching 'a tipping point in its use of antibiotics', Jan 8). Part of the solution must inevitably involve greater working in partnership between commercial organisations such as biotech, pharmaceutical companies, charities, the NHS and central government.  But making new medicines is an expensive and risky business. 

The days of the blockbuster drug, are over and costs of development are escalating. So if we are to continue with a market-driven approach to developing new drugs. investors need a more persuasive investment proposition.  

This means that we must therefore either accept higher prices for drugs or re-evaluate our approach to patent protection. A longer patent lifetime would allow investors to generate a return over a longer period and incentivise pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics. Perhaps even more importantly it would provide a business model that could safeguard the pipeline of new affordable medicines for many other diseases and establish Britain as the destination of choice for the next generation of drug hunters.

A modified version of this was published in the Daily Telegraph


  1. If I have understood you correctly, you are proposing that Britain should pass a law extending the duration of UK patents for pharmaceutical products. In other words UK patents would last longer than those of other countries in the European Patent Convention.

    Have you discussed this idea with any patent lawyers, eg Professor Sir Robin Jacob of UCL, or with any UK pharmaceutical companies? Questions that I would have include:

    1) How would such a move sit with the UK's patent treaty obligations, eg under the EPC?
    2) Would it make any difference to filing practice in the pharma sector, eg if we are all moving to the Unified Patent then special UK rules may be irrelevant. Unless of course, we can persuade other EU countries to extend the term of the unified patent.
    3) Would it affect investment decisions? As I understand it, pharma product development is very expensive and depends on patent life worldwide to get a return on investment. Would extending the term in one country outside the USA make that much difference?

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