- President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an Executive Order to create a national task force that must develop a five-year action plan on curbing antibiotic resistance by February 15. The order also proposes earmarking $900 million annually for surveillance and research and $800 million for incentivizing pharma companies to develop new antibiotics
- Background: Americans use more antibiotics than people in any other developed nation. In addition, the US also uses more antibiotics in livestock compared with other countries. Each year, two million people fight antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 end up dying because there are no effective treatments available.
- Some health experts feel that the White House did not go far enough to rein in use of antibiotics in livestock and that this will continue to be a driver of epidemic antibiotic resistance.
The challenge of antibiotic resistance has become so serious that experts are concerned that antibiotics may lose their power altogether, rendering currently treatable illnesses -- such as strep throat -- fatal and plunging us back into the pre-antibiotic era of the early 20th century.
In addition to pledging $1.7 billion per year for stewardship, surveillance, research, and development incentives for companies, the president’s Executive Order also sets up a $20 million prize for development of a diagnostic test that could be used on the spot to identify highly resistant bacterial infections. Currently, institutions must rely on compiled surveillance data charts that are consulted whenever an infection is diagnosed. The worst case scenario is always multi-resistance bacterial infections.
Despite the recognition of the problem and the measures taken to combat antibiotic resistance, many experts still feel that the new legislation does not go far enough. Their worries are legitimate: More than 70% of antibiotics in the US are given to livestock, which experts contend has a profound impact on the human population through the food chain. Despite these lingering and legitimate concerns, Obama's new Executive Order is a step in the right direction.
But there's another step that the pharma industry, regulators, and lawmakers can pursue: delinking the current industry vaccine model. As Vox's Julia Belluz reports, a new report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends delinking as "one of the key alternative economic models for drug development." Such a model would replace the current system of rewarding pharma companies on a per-sale, return-on-investment basis that brushes up against the purpose of antibiotics, which is to actually keep people healthy.