When I was around 8 years old, I came home from school one day convinced that catching on fire was inevitable. I believed with absolute certainty that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I’d find myself ablaze and that survival would hinge on my ability to ‘stop, drop and roll.’
If the intent of that lesson was to give children nightmares so that they didn’t play with matches, mission accomplished. Fortunately, as an adult, I’m no longer kept awake by fears of spontaneous combustion. That said, one of my more toxic habits is my inclination to fan the flames of anxiety by falling down the internet rabbit hole of catastrophic scenarios — usually right before I go to sleep at night.
During my last plummet, I learned that 35 years ago, a person trapped inside a burning house had approximately 15-17 minutes to escape. Today, thanks to open floor plans, modern building materials and synthetic furnishings, you have 2-3 minutes to get out before your home is entirely engulfed in flames.
A decade spent as a journalist in the pharma space doesn’t come without reasons to lose sleep — a significant portion of my job involves reading about things that could potentially kill us. On a good day, this is balanced with ways in which pharma can save us. A decisively bad day is realizing that it’s the pharma industry itself that needs saving.
Most are familiar with the stats on ‘superbugs’ and how the world is careening towards a predicted 10 million deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections by 2050 if action isn’t taken. This month’s cover story emphasizes the urgent need for new, innovative antibiotics. But the snag in the plan to develop and manufacture these lifesaving drugs is that there is little ROI for companies who bring new antibiotics to market. So little in fact, that many companies have either given up or gone bankrupt in the process.
But the most critical market in health care is still on fire. Without effective antibiotics, common procedures, such as cancer treatments, hip replacements, c-sections and even routine tooth extractions, could become life-threatening.
The good news is that AMR stakeholders have sounded the alarm and the message has made its way to Washington. In addition to the research funding and other push incentives already in place to stimulate the antibiotics pipeline, U.S. policy reform is on the horizon.
The legislation on everyone’s lips right now is the PASTEUR Act, which would change the way the government pays for critically needed antibiotics, basing it on the drug’s value to public health. With 40 co-sponsors in the House and the mention of a similar delinked proposal in the President’s fiscal year budget, the future for PASTEUR looks promising.
When it comes to AMR (or fire safety), awareness and preparation go a long way. Even with time running out, the worst-case scenario doesn’t always have to come to fruition. Drug developers large and small can help the cause by continuing to advocate for both antibiotic stewardship and further policy reform. Those in the antibiotics space can best position pipelines by staying updated on details of pending legislation and more importantly, focusing development efforts on truly innovative antibiotics.
I’m hopeful that U.S. policy reform will be the final step needed in a well-made plan to rebuild our country’s antibiotics house. Passing new policy in the largest pharma market in the world will send the message to investors that the antibiotics field is structurally sound, which will in turn stimulate the pipeline and generate the innovative antibiotics we need — allowing us all to sleep better at night.