The NHS is set to roll out two superbug-busting drugs through a world-first subscription deal that will help tackle antimicrobial resistance and is a 'game changer', the head of the NHS has announced.

The deal, initially for two antimicrobial drugs - cefiderocol and ceftazidime-avibactam - means 'patients with serious infections that have evolved so much that antibiotics and other current treatments are no longer effective, can be given a potentially life-saving alternative', NHSE said on Wednesday (15 June).

These drugs will 'provide a lifeline to patients with life-threatening infections like sepsis, hospital or ventilator pneumonia and blood stream infection', NHSE promised, with increasing numbers of people developing drug resistance as germs evolve to become resistant to current antibiotics. 

NHSE said the first-of-its-kind NHS deal means pharmaceutical firms will receive a fixed yearly fee – capped at a level that represents value to taxpayers – in order to 'incentivise funding for innovation that can generate a pipeline of new antibiotics for NHS patients'.

Around 1,700 patients per year with severe bacterial infections will be eligible for the drugs, with cefiderocol manufactured by Shionogi, and ceftazidime–avibactam by Pfizer. 

This new style of agreement with the drug manufacturers will 'ensure they work in partnership with the NHS to protect their longevity, using them when necessary but preserving their effectiveness for future years,' NHSE explained. 

Announcing the deal at NHS ConfedExpo, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard called the subscription deal a 'game-changer' and said it is the 'latest NHS success in using its commercial power to benefit NHS patients in line with the Long Term Plan'.

Ms Pritchard said superbug-busting drugs on the NHS will 'save lives and strike a blow in the global battle against antimicrobial resistance'. 

She said that 'innovation in antibiotics has been limited' until now, but this 'pioneering' NHS subscription scheme 'aims to turn the tide'.

Ms Pritchard continued: 'This world-leading agreement not only provides a template for other countries to follow, incentivising antimicrobial drug innovation globally, as we collectively deal with this threat to modern medicine and public health, but also gives new hope to thousands of patients who previously had no treatment options left.' 

The deal is the result of a UK-wide project between NHSE, NICE and DHSC, and is 'the first time any health system in the world has successfully assessed the value of an antimicrobial in this way,' NHSE said. 'It is aimed at incentivising further innovation among drug firms to beat superbugs'.

NHS medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said this deal will 'offer hope' to those who have had limited or no success with current treatments, with tens of thousands of people suffering from drug-resistant superbugs every year in England. 

'This is a huge milestone in the country’s quest to tackle the increasing global threat of antimicrobial resistance,' he said, and it is 'fantastic' the NHS has been able to 'lay down the footprint' to tackle this. 

NHSE explained that this approach to incentivising innovation in antimicrobial drugs to tackle superbugs overcomes the issue of paying pharmaceutical companies based on the number of drugs bought or prescribed, given they will be subject to stricter rules on who is able to receive them in order to ensure they continue to work effectively. 

There is a maximum contract value set at a level where payments would represent an incentive for investment should other countries pay similar sums, up to a maximum of £10m a year for up to 10 years. 

NHS commercial medicines director, Blake Dark, said the NHS is 'showing international leadership' in using its 'commercial capabilities to reshape the approach to healthcare challenges'.

'Working closely with partners at NICE and with Shionogi and Pfizer, we know we’ve done something really special here and I’ve been delighted by the number of countries contacting us to ask how they can learn from this revolutionary approach', he said.