GSK backs Fleming Initiative with £45m pledge to help fight against drug resistant infections

Global biopharma company, GSK, will become the first founding partner of the Fleming Initiative, an innovative and collaborative new approach led by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London to tackle anti-microbial resistance (AMR) around the world.

The £45m pledge from GSK is announced today (16 May) by Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham, Executive Chair of the Fleming Initiative, and GSK CEO Emma Walmsley, at an event celebrating global efforts and initiatives to tackle AMR convened by the UK Department for Health and Social Care and the Royal Society. The Prince of Wales, Patron of the appeal to create The Fleming Initiative, will also be in attendance.

The pledge will support the Fleming Initiative’s unique and transformative approach and will help bring together world-class expertise in science, technology, policy and behavioural science alongside clinical experience, through a global network of centres that will find, test, and scale solutions to AMR.  

At the heart of the Fleming Initiative will be the Fleming Centre, set to open at St Mary’s Hospital in 2028 to help to mark the centenary of the discovery of penicillin at the hospital by Sir Alexander Fleming. At the Centre, scientists will work alongside clinicians, patients, members of the public and policy makers to scope, test and scale solutions. The Fleming Centre will work closely with networks of centres in strategic locations around the world to catalyse worldwide action.   

The Centre is also a key part of the Trust’s Paddington Life Sciences development, which aims to create a thriving ecosystem for life sciences research and innovation in north west London. 

Professor Tim Orchard, chief executive of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said: “Anti-microbial resistance remains one of the biggest challenges we face in the NHS and other healthcare systems around the world. The support of a global biopharma company with a proven history in treatment for infectious disease is a major boost to our goal to find new solutions and interventions for tackling drug-resistant infections. The Fleming Centre, based at our St Mary's Hospital, where Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin nearly 100 years ago, will be at the heart of the Initiative and part of a rapidly growing ecosystem of research and innovation that will benefit both local and global communities.” 

AMR occurs when microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites adapt and become resistant to the drugs we use to kill them and treat infections. The result is drug-resistant infections that are increasingly difficult to treat and common infections and minor injuries potentially becoming life-threatening. This has been caused in part by the widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines, in humans and livestock across the world. To effectively tackle AMR, global awareness and behaviour change is needed alongside rapid scientific advances.   

AMR is widely recognised, including by the World Health Organization, as an urgent global public health threat. In 2019 there were an estimated 1.2 million deaths directly attributable to drug-resistant bacterial infections and as many as 10 million people could die annually from AMR by 2050. The Fleming Initiative is particularly focused on supporting countries most severely affected by AMR where poverty, climate change and health inequality exacerbate the issues caused by drug resistant infections.  

GSK has been involved in discovering, manufacturing and making antibiotics available to patients for over 70 years. GSK legacy companies played important roles in the research and manufacture of penicillin, and during the Second World War the company supplied around 80 per cent of the UK’s penicillin. GSK currently has more than 30 medicines and vaccines in development related to AMR. 

Lord Darzi, chair of the Fleming Initiative, said: “Alexander Fleming’s extraordinary discovery was brought to the world through partnership with industry. As we approach the centenary of his breakthrough, we are delighted that GSK will be a founding partner for the Fleming Initiative – bringing their invaluable expertise and experience to help ensure collective action and protect generations to come.” 

Professor Hugh Brady, president of Imperial College London, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious challenges facing humanity. The Fleming Initiative will see Imperial build on its impressive track record of societal engagement, policy research and convergence science to tackle this issue head-on. Importantly, it is a global initiative involving partnership at unprecedented scale with leading pharmaceutical companies such as GSK, research funding agencies, philanthropists, health systems and governments.” 

Emma Walmsley, GSK CEO said: “This will be an important collaboration for GSK building on our long- standing commitment to tackling AMR and our focus on disease prevention. The Fleming Initiative will bring together global resources and expertise from across different sectors to better understand the factors contributing to this growing threat and most importantly, drive action and solutions. We are proud to be a founding partner, and hope others will join us to support this urgent priority”.  

Health minister Andrew Stephenson said: “AMR is one of the biggest threats to our society and it’s excellent that private organisations are supporting global efforts to tackle it. I applaud GSK for providing significant funding to support the brilliant work of the Fleming Initiative, bringing together world-renowned science, research and technology to protect the international community.”