Obama Administration Tackles Antibiotic Resistance

By Ashley Hayes
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Sept. 18, 2014 -- The Obama administration on Thursday announced a set of measures aimed at combating the threat of antibiotic resistance, which can happen when these medicines are used too often and lose their power to treat bacterial infections.

Resistance is "a serious domestic and international challenge to human and animal health, national security, and the economy," John Holdren, PhD, told reporters. Holdren is director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The measures include a $20 million prize offered for the development of rapid tests doctors can use to diagnose antibiotic-resistant infections. The prize is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The announcement came as the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on antibiotic resistance, which includes eight recommendations for action.

Antibiotic resistance is "a worldwide problem," Tom Frieden, MD, director of the CDC, said Thursday. "This is an urgent health threat and a threat to our economic stability as well."

Some 23,000 people die and 2 million become sick each year because of antibiotic-resistant infections, Frieden said, noting those estimates are conservative. Such infections can also complicate treatments for conditions like cancer, he said. The infections are estimated to cost $20 billion in direct health care costs, with far more costs in lost productivity.

Use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to resistance, Frieden said. Although antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs, half of those prescriptions either aren't needed or aren't optimally effective as prescribed.

The PCAST report's recommendations are aimed at three areas, said co-chair Eric Lander, PhD.

  • Strengthen surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Develop new antibiotics.
  • Encourage doctors to responsibly manage the use of existing antibiotics.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Promote research into new antibiotics.
  • Speed up clinical trials.
  • Increase economic incentives for the development of new antibiotics.

Other actions announced Thursday include:

  • The release of a national strategy on combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The strategy details actions aimed at achieving, by 2020, goals including slowing and preventing the spread of resistant bacteria, and creating tests for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • An executive order signed by President Obama, directing agencies to implement the national strategy and address the PCAST report. The order also sets up an interagency task force, headed by the secretaries of defense, agriculture, and health and human services. The task force will submit an action plan to the president by February 2015 outlining specific actions.
  • The order asks agencies to review existing rules about responsible use of antibiotics in hospitals and to propose new regulations to improve them.
  • The order also sets up a non-governmental advisory council to provide advice, information, and recommendations on programs and policies to combat antibiotic resistance. It directs the secretaries of HHS and state to work with the World Health Organization on creating a global action plan.
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SOURCES: John Holdren, Eric Lander and Tom Frieden, White House conference call. White House Fact Sheet, released Sept. 18, 2014.

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