What will it take for Congress to up the ante on antibiotics?

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This month marks one year since the reintroduction of The PASTEUR Law on Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Resurgence of Resistance which fills a critical gap in our national and global health ecosystem by providing a mechanism to encourage biotech companies large and small to return to the long-discontinued business of antibiotic development. We are pleased to see the growing support from Democrats and Republicans for his innovative approach to the subscription model of paying for new antibiotics based on value rather than volume. Yet we don’t have time to wait for action. The very real threat of increased antibiotic resistance means the PASTEUR law “must pass” legislation this year. Congress must raise the bar and pass the PASTEUR law.

While most of us are fortunate enough to be able to treat infections with a quick course of oral antibiotics, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those struggling with antibiotic resistance; this includes immunocompromised people, young children, athletes, people who have recently given birth, and those living in hospitals or nursing homes. A growing number of bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, potentially putting us on the path to another pandemic which, unlike the one we live in now, is preventable if we prioritize rebuilding the antibiotic pipeline.

People with cystic fibrosis (CF) face an increased susceptibility to infections due to persistent mucus in their lungs, which necessitates the routine use of antibiotics as part of their CF care. And, as a result of this medically necessary treatment, many people with cystic fibrosis find themselves dealing with difficult-to-treat infections for which existing antibiotics are not effective. An example of this is MRSAa dangerous type of infection that is increasingly resistant to antibiotics and will affect a quarter of people with cystic fibrosis in the United States each year (the median age of infection being 11 years).

A 19-year-old woman living with cystic fibrosis in New Jersey today has had MRSA for as long as she can remember, but she can only count two antibiotics that have made a difference against this dangerous infection. As a child, she regularly took these antibiotics, which were usually enough to bring her back to baseline lung function before the infection. But with the systematic use of these drugs, the effectiveness decreased. When she turned 16, those last two antibiotics stopped working. She fell very ill, which led to a long hospital stay that caused her to miss school. With no remaining treatments, MRSA continues to threaten her health and her future. The PASTEUR law can change that.

Antibiotics are a hallmark of modern medicine, keeping us safe in activities ranging from surgeries to having a baby or playing sports in high school. Yet we are seeing their effectiveness quickly fade in real time as Congress will not prioritize the revitalization of this essential tool for all of our health by passing the PASTEUR law.

At the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, we invest in research to accelerate the development of new antibiotics. Our Infection Research Initiative is a comprehensive approach to improving outcomes associated with infection, including improved detection, diagnosis, prevention and treatment that also has the potential to benefit the general public. Three of the seven most common infections in people with cystic fibrosis — caused by Aspergillus, MRSA and Pseudomonas — are part of the Center of Disease Control Watch List.

The Foundation represents less than 1% of the US population, and we have spent $109 million in three years to solve this problem. However, this crisis will not be solved with funding from just one organization. We’re doing our part to develop new infection control tools, but investing in research alone won’t solve these challenges — we need Congress to do its part.

Cystic fibrosis is a rare disease, but in the case of antibiotic-resistant infections, people with cystic fibrosis face challenges today that a larger population may face tomorrow if we don’t continue to manage this problem and to develop new antibiotics. Products in the antibiotic pipeline must be supported by a strong ecosystem of incentives to combat the low market value and high societal value of these products. This is where the PASTEUR law comes in. We know how important the stakes are if the PASTEUR law does not pass.

This week, nearly 70 teenagers with cystic fibrosis or lovers of someone with the disease are meeting with their members of Congress to urge action, including the passage of the PASTEUR law. These teens know what life is like when there is an increased risk of antibiotic-resistant infections.

The question they’re asking Congress, what we’re all asking is, will Congress up the ante on antibiotics?

Mary Dwight is senior vice president, policy and advocacy at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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