Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major threat to human health around the world. As today’s antibiotics become less and less effective, one extreme yet real consequence could be a return to 19th Century medicine when antibiotics didn’t exist, and amputations were preferrable to many routine surgical procedures as a result.
Leading infectious disease experts are already sounding the alarm. Shockingly, over 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the country each year, and at least 35,000 people die as a result. Furthermore, patients with weakened immune systems can suffer from a secondary bacterial or fungal infection. A study of 148 hospitals across 17 states found a 24% increase in multidrug resistant infections associated with COVID-19 between March and September of 2020, and the CDC has also noted a number of AMR outbreaks in COVID-19 wards.
Globally, AMR is responsible for more deaths than HIV or Malaria and could develop into the next public health crisis. We now know the costs of a pandemic both in terms of lives lost as well as the financial cost to the government, i.e. taxpayers, to fill the void with another Operation Warp Speed type initiative.
We need to invest in AMR pandemic preparedness before we reach the breaking point where we can no longer defeat infections. The clock is ticking, and we need an executable strategy to prepare for the threat that AMR infections pose.
The problem is well known the business of making new antibiotics is unprofitable. In fact, many antibiotic inventors and manufacturing companies have left or are leaving the space. This is because businesses are unable to recoup massive research and development commitments because of the short-term nature of an antibiotic cycle combined with medical provider reluctance appropriately to write prescriptions for new antibiotics unless necessary for patient care.
Something has to be done to correct this market failure. For these reasons, in June of 2021, I partnered with U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) to introduce the Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions To End Up Surging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act. This bipartisan, bicameral bill puts forth an innovative strategy to incentivize development and make sure these lifesaving drugs will be available when we need them. While current contracts between the government and drug makers base payment on volume, the PASTEUR Act would establish a subscription-style model which would offer antibiotic developers an upfront payment in exchange for access to their antibiotics, creating public-private partnerships that encourage innovation and ensure our healthcare system is prepared to treat resistant infections.
We must bring together the unique capabilities and resources of the public and private sectors to solve the market failures impeding the development of new antibiotics. The need for the PASTEUR Act has never been greater as antibiotic resistance threatens to undo decades of medical progress, and the few small companies remaining in the antibiotics market struggle to stay in business.
Our legislation would stabilize this market, incentivize the development of new drugs targeting the most threatening infections, improve the appropriate use of antibiotics, and ensure domestic availability when needed. This important legislation also provides the American taxpayer a return on the financial investments the U.S. makes in new antibiotic development representing “smart spending” for U.S. taxpayers so that we may solve AMR.
• U.S. Representative Drew Ferguson, Georgia Republican, represents the 3rd Congressional District. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and is Chief Deputy Whip for the House Republican Conference.