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Klapp: Rise of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ cause concern for the next pandemic


As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, experts continue to debate what could have been done to better mitigate and address this deadly virus. What’s not up for debate is that we must do everything in our power to prevent the next pandemic.

We cannot afford another crisis that harms so many aspects of our lives, including our own personal health, health care system, and economy. It’s time that Congress acts to prevent a serious emerging health threat: drug-resistant infections or “superbugs.”

Congress must prioritize aligning the drug development market with public health needs. Legislation before Congress known as the PASTEUR Act does just that. The bipartisan PASTEUR Act would help create a system where hospitals or governments could pay for innovative, high-priority antibiotics based on their value to public health rather than direct sales.

This would support the development of antibiotics and novel approaches to address the most threatening superbugs and help ensure that once brought to market biotech companies can continue to provide these critical medicines.

Many Arizonans may not know that drug-resistant infections are already taking thousands of lives yearly. These so-called superbugs or bacteria or fungi that are resistant to antibiotics and other existing medicines kill more than 35,000 people a year nationwide. Worldwide, drug-resistant bacterial infections killed more than one million people in 2019.

According to the World Health Organization, superbugs could kill up to 10 million people annually by 2050 if we do not put a plan into action. Left unchecked, superbugs will continue to be on track to make many bacterial pathogens, such as those that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections, much more dangerous.

The solution is relatively straightforward, but an action plan is more complicated. Like these bacteria and fungi designed to evolve and survive, we must also evolve by developing new antibiotics to address antimicrobial resistance. Public health officials agree that new medicines must be developed to combat this urgent and growing threat, but the innovation pipeline has dried up. This is in large part because the current market structure for antibiotics does not incentivize researchers and investors to help develop new antimicrobials.

The process of researching, developing, and getting approval for new antibiotics is lengthy and costly for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. It typically costs around $1 billion and takes 10-15 years to bring a new drug to market. And the development of antibiotics is woefully underfunded. For example, over the past 10 years, venture capital funding for U.S. antibiotic development amounted to $1.6 billion, compared to $26.5 billion for oncology, according to a recent report.

Further, industry analysts estimate that the average revenue generated from an antibiotic’s sale is roughly $46 million per year compared to the $1.5 billion needed for development.

The PASTEUR Act represents the best chance of getting ahead of the next superbug pandemic rather than scrambling to deal with it after it is too late.

We need some Senators and Representatives to take the lead on this issue by supporting this bill and taking every measure possible to protect their constituents’ health and our state’s economy. Arizonans will thank them for being proactive and using their voice in Washington to defend the health of people in our state.