A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adding urgency to an issue lawmakers from both parties say they want to address: the rise of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
According to the report, at least 2 million people in the United States are infected each year by bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics that are supposed to treat them, directly resulting in at least 23,000 deaths. And that’s “a very conservative estimate of the burden,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said.
The key message he wants to get across, Frieden told an audience at a Capitol Hill briefing, is that “there’s a big problem and there’s something we can do about it” — a sentiment with which both Republican and Democratic policymakers appear to agree.
Congress last year passed a five-year reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee programs that included a provision designed to provide incentives for the development of new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections, known as the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now Act. The authors of that provision, Reps. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., and Gene Green, D-Texas, are working on a new bill to help smooth the pathway to get antibiotics to market.
In the Senate, a bipartisan pair has also expressed interest in the issue. And in response to the CDC report, Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have requested a hearing on antibiotic resistance, a topic that a spokeswoman for committee Republicans said could be a part of expected hearings on issues related to the FDA.
“While all agree that the GAIN Act was a huge step in combating antibiotic resistance, we support the need to identify additional policies that foster and support development of new measures to combat life-threatening infections because the public threat we continue to face is very real,” the spokeswoman said.
“The committee expects to examine FDA-related issues in the coming weeks, which will provide the opportunity to discuss this and other subjects related to the FDA. We look forward to partnering again with our Democratic colleagues on the topic of antibiotic resistance.”
Frieden said the new report represents the first time the CDC has pulled together all of its data on antimicrobial resistance and assembled it in one place. The document categorizes 18 microorganisms as urgent, serious or concerning, based on the level of threat.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.