Can COVID-19 Health Policy Inform How to Address Antimicrobial Resistance?

While the world’s focus remains on COVID-19, beyond this ongoing crisis lingers another that requires leadership, innovation, and collaboration from policy makers, the health care community, and the private sector.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is another significant health care challenge that demands attention. Worldwide, 700,000 people lose their lives to antibiotic resistant "superbugs" annually. And by 2050, that global number could increase to 10 million people annually, according to a United Nations report. The cost to the global economy would be $100 trillion.

Increasingly, the need for public policies to address this ongoing challenge are needed.

One example of how public policy can have a significant impact on health care is the Biden Administration’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness plan, which was released in January, and addresses the ongoing crisis.

“It lays out a clear, unified message,” Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, MA, said. “That seems simple, but it is a unified message on the public health distancing issues, the seriousness of the virus, and it is cascading across the federal, state, and local governments…It also lays out a strategy for increasing the supply of vaccines.”

An example of Thorpe’s last point can be seen in the Biden administration’s part to help facilitate a partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to have the former manufacture the latter’s authorized COVID-19 vaccine. This will help to accelerate the number of available vaccines to people in the US, and shorten the timeline for every American adult to have access to the vaccine.

Just like COVID-19, AMR knows no borders and remains a significant challenge throughout the world.

One organization that is looking at how to overcome antimicrobial resistance is the Partnership to Fight Infectious Disease (PFID) group. PFID is made up of health care providers, patients, researchers, community organizations, business groups, and infectious disease experts.

They are looking to address AMR in three areas:

  • Advocating for policy changes that would help activate and support research and development of new antimicrobial treatments to treat drug-resistant infections.
  • Motivating broad change in the way antimicrobial medicines are prescribed, accessed, consumed, monitored, and paid for.
  • Reinforcing awareness among all public and private stakeholders about the need for a pipeline of new antimicrobial medicines, the need for access to our existing medicines by providers and patients, the challenges of antimicrobial resistance to the practice of modern medicine, and AMR’s threat to the health of every person.

Thorpe serves on the PFID advisory board, and as a former health care policy advisor to President Bill Clinton, Thorpe understands the value of federal policies.

“We need to build up our capacity infrastructure,” Thorpe said. “We did that with COVID-19 in terms of an accelerated approval process. We really need to have something similar with antimicrobial resistance…we need to make sure we can take that on.”

As with COVID-19, a similar, policy-based approach could be taken with AMR.

PFID is working with members of Congress on trying to pass The Pasteur Act. This bill is aimed at establishing a program to develop antimicrobial innovation “targeting the most challenging pathogens and most threatening infections.”

Thorpe points out that AMR has its own set of difficulties including a lack of antibiotics, low reimbursement rates, and even the cost to develop new therapies.

However, Thorpe believes there might be a way to incentivize biopharmaceutical companies to develop antibiotics. One method might be to use a subscription model like is being done by some European countries.

“It would encourage innovation in [antibiotic] drug development by essentially setting up an upfront payment to a drug manufacturer,” Thorpe said. “The subscription could be anywhere from $750 million to $3 billion. It is a way to spur innovation in the marketplace.”

Contagion spoke to Thorpe about the federal plan to ramp-up vaccine production and distribution, how the lessons of COVID-19 can be applicable to public policy with AMR, and other strategies to deal with antimicrobial resistance.