A scheme to provide new antibiotics to NHS patients by offering to pay pharmaceutical companies upfront for their work will start this week, the government has announced.

The NHS is offering two contracts to pay pharmaceutical companies at the start of their work for access to innovative antibiotics, incentivising them to bring new classes of the drugs to patients across the UK for the first time in almost 30 years.

Antibiotics that provide alternative treatment options for serious infections, such as bloodstream infections, sepsis and hospital-acquired pneumonia are of particular interest.

The high cost and low returns associated with antibiotic research and development make it commercially unattractive. This is why the drugs will be paid for by the world’s first ‘subscription-style’ payment model for antibiotics and will be made available to UK patients as soon as possible, potentially as early as 2022.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on antimicrobial resistance, said the UK is “leading the way” by encouraging companies to produce new antibiotics.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new scheme will “break down restrictive barriers to offer companies a vital springboard to foster innovation and develop potentially life-saving new products. ” 

The payment model, which was launched in July 2019, will pay pharmaceutical companies upfront for access to their antibiotic product, based on a product’s value to the NHS, rather than how much is used.

The model aims to incentivise companies to invest in researching and developing new antibiotics, helping secure much-needed alternative treatment options for NHS patients.

Two drugs that have proven to be both safe and effective will be selected to undergo health technology assessment (HTA) by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) throughout 2021 using adapted methods for antimicrobials. The HTA will be used to decide the level of the subscription payment.

From this week, suppliers can register their interest for the scheme on NHS England’s eTendering Service.