Congressional hearings “should be held as quickly as possible to examine the appropriate federal response to this serious threat,” Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Diana DeGette of Colorado wrote recently to the Republican leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The committee worked on this issue in 2012, and President Obama signed a law that contained an incentive for antibiotic development: Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now would add five years of patent-exclusivity to qualified products used to fight infectious diseases such as CRE and tuberculosis. Such qualifying drugs would also get “priority review” by federal agencies.
The law is “a good first step, but much more is needed,” Robert Guidos, vice president for public policy and government relations at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said Tuesday.
Another hearing on the drug-resistant pathogens would be good, he said, because there are many more ways to encourage drug-makers to keep fighting to find new antibiotics. Mr. Guidos cited research and development tax credits and reimbursement models as potential solutions.
Britain’s top medical officer said late last week she was exploring ways to offer the pharmaceutical industry greater financial incentives to target the new class of antibiotic-resistant germs, including public-private partnerships and government purchase guarantees for companies that develop useful but financially unrewarding drugs.
“We need to look at basic science, intellectual property and how to invest so we can develop products and get them into practice quickly to save lives,” Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies told the Financial Times.
Dr. Frieden called for stepped-up sanitation efforts in health care facilities, more diligent hand washing by all health care workers, and more discriminating use of antibiotics and invasive medical devices such as catheters.
“We need to continue to invest in research and test to prevent CRE infections in the first place” — and develop new antibiotics, Dr. Frieden added.
Providers of nursing home and other long-term health care say they are already “on top” of the multidrug-resistant bugs.
“We are very concerned about any kind of superbug that’s out there,” said Sandra Fitzler, senior director of clinical services at the American Health Care Association, the nation’s largest trade group for health care facilities that care for about 1 million elderly and disabled people a day.
“We’re very careful about those resistant organisms,” she said, noting that the CDC warnings prompted new reminders to facilities about hygiene, cleanliness, and overuse of antibiotics and catheters.
Fortunately, studies have shown that if CRE patients are quickly identified, and they and their medical equipment are isolated from others, current hospital sanitary protocols can greatly improve the odds that the infections will not spread. An Israeli study cited by the CDC, for instance, found that concerted efforts led that nation to slash its CRE incidence from 55.5 cases per 100,000 patient days to 11.7 cases per 100,000 patient days.
“We know it’s a serious problem, but we also know it’s a problem we can stop,” Dr. Frieden said.
He also recently tweeted: “Healthcare providers: Wash your hands before touching a patient every time! Prevent CRE.”
CRE death rates ranged from 38 percent to 44 percent in two studies; the CDC reported three deaths out of 72 CRE cases in three states from August to December 2011.