In Wake Of Superbug Scare, Lawmakers Renew Push For New Antibiotics

Last week, military scientists confirmed the discovery of a patient in Pennsylvania infected with a bacteria that was not only resistant to many traditional antibiotics, but also contained a gene (MCR-1) making it resistant to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort used when all others are ineffective. In response, Senators are making a renewed push on bipartisan legislation intended to speed up the approval of new antibiotics.

According to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, it’s been more than 30 years since a new class of antibiotics was approved, with everything that’s come on the market since around 1984 being a variation on an already existing drug.

First introduced in 2015 by Senator Michael Bennet (CO) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health (PATH) Act would create an expedited process for the development and approval of certain antibiotics to treat life-threatening infections in limited populations.

The bill also calls for the implementation of antibiotic stewardship programs and more robust surveillance of bacterial resistance through the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network and other national tracking systems.

While the PATH Act was approved in April by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee — which, according to GovTrack, gives it a 52% chance of being enacted as law — it could still be some time until it comes up for a vote by the Senate (and of course then it must make its way through the House).

In an effort to speed up the process, Bennet and Hatch are introducing the act as an amendment to a more vital piece of legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

“Superbugs are a growing threat to our public health and national security,” Bennet said in statement. “The colistin-resistant bacteria found in a patient in Pennsylvania underscores how vulnerable we are to a growing number of superbugs. Yet, research has lagged to the point where a truly novel antibiotic hasn’t been discovered in more than 30 years. This bipartisan amendment would encourage researchers to find new antibiotics to treat otherwise unstoppable infections before it’s too late.”

Hatch echoes this sentiment, noting that “More than 60% of infectious disease doctors have treated patients with infections that did not respond to any antibiotics.”

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