Antibiotics transformed modern medicine, offering lifesaving treatment and preventing widespread outbreaks of infections. Many common but dangerous infections are now largely resistant to the drugs traditionally used to treat them, risking the lives of the entire population. Legislation has been proposed to ensure continued access to antibiotics that work — but Congress must act fast.
Haley A. Pritchard, M.D., M.S.
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, Indiana University Health
“The PASTEUR Act would strengthen the antimicrobial pipeline by transitioning to a subscription-style program, providing reliable federal contracts for critically needed antimicrobials.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antimicrobial resistance already causes at least 3 million illnesses and 35,000 deaths in the United States each year — averaging nearly 100 people each day. Infections are one of the most common complications for patients with cancer, causing or contributing to half of all cancer deaths as resistance makes these infections increasingly harder to treat.
Drug-resistant bacteria pose a particularly severe threat to women’s health, as they can lead to cases of urinary tract infections, sepsis, and sexually transmitted infections that are incredibly difficult or impossible to treat.
More than 92% of bacteria that cause UTIs are resistant to at least one common medication, and almost 80% are resistant to at least two. Sepsis is already a leading cause of maternal mortality, a problem made worse by antimicrobial resistance, which increases the danger and challenge of treating it. This year, experts sounded the alarm as cases of gonorrhea, the second most common STI in the United States, emerged with increased resistance to every kind of antibiotic available to treat them.
Historically marginalized populations are at disproportionate risk for certain antimicrobial-resistant infections. The rates of community-associated antibiotic-resistant MRSA are higher among Black populations, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities have substantially higher rates of Group A Streptococcus.
The PASTEUR Act
Doctors need a robust antibiotic pipeline to protect patients and resources for antibiotic stewardship programs in healthcare facilities, which guide appropriate antibiotic use to improve patient outcomes and preserve antibiotics’ effectiveness. There simply aren’t enough antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause serious disease and death, and antibiotics’ effectiveness is diminished the more they are used.
Proposed bipartisan legislation, called the PASTEUR Act (which stands for Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance), calls for a change in the way the government funds the development of new antibiotics.
The PASTEUR Act would strengthen the antimicrobial pipeline by transitioning to a subscription-style program, providing reliable federal contracts for critically needed antimicrobials. This would give drugmakers — typically very small companies — a predictable return on investment that aligns with the need to limit the prescription of antibiotics to maintain their efficacy.
In essence, Congress would support the development of much needed antibiotics that we don’t want a lot of people to use — or overuse. PASTEUR would also provide hospitals and long-term care facilities with resources to support appropriate antibiotic use.
Lawmakers must pass the PASTEUR Act to ensure doctors and their patients can access lifesaving antimicrobial treatments that work — before it’s too late.