President Obama's fiscal 2016 budget request will include a proposal to nearly double federal funding dedicated to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria — a health issue that causes approximately 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year in the US. The increase would bring the total amount devoted to antibiotic resistance to $1.2 billion.
"resistance could hamper our ability to perform a range of modern medical procedures"
Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria encounters antibiotics in doses that aren't quite strong enough to kill them. Non-lethal contact with a drug is what allows bacteria to adapt and survive. When the bacteria can withstand our antibiotics, we have no way to cure infections — making major surgeries impossible, cutting short the lives of people with compromised immune systems, and turning even minor cuts into serious health risks.
And the Obama administration is certainly aware of the threat. "The rise of resistance could hamper our ability to perform a range of modern medical procedures from joint replacements to organ transplants, the safety of which depends on our ability to treat bacterial infections that can arise as post-surgical complications," according to a White House statement.
In the new funding proposal, about $650 million will go to the NIH and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to spur drug development, reports The Washington Post. Another portion of the funding, about $280 million, will be used to curb the over-prescribing of antibiotics in humans (about 50 percent of people who take antibiotics don't actually need them). Moreover, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs will get a total of $163 million to combat antibiotic-resistant infections in settings that cater to veterans.
The White House's funding proposal appears to be a follow-up to a five-year plan it announced in September, aimed at slowing the spread of resistant bacteria. The plan directed the Department of Health and Human services to come up with regulations requiring hospitals to set up antibiotic management programs. It also included the formation of a task force that is supposed to deliver a fully formed course of action by February 15th. In addition, it laid out incentives to pharmaceutical companies to try to kick-start drug development — but it mostly ignored the role of antibiotics in food production.
$1.2 billion pales in comparison to the $4.9 billion that goes to cancer research
Today's announcement doesn't ignore the main consumers of antibiotics — 80 percent of antibiotics in the US are used on animals. $77 million will go to the Agriculture Department to develop alternatives to antibiotics used in farming. Another $47 million will be dedicated to evaluating new antibiotics — antibiotics like the newly discovered teixobactin, for instance — and monitoring antibiotic use in livestock production.
Doubling of the budget to fight antibiotic resistance might seem impressive at first blush, but $1.2 billion pales in comparison to the $4.9 billion that goes toward the National Cancer Institute each year. However, doubling the budget for antibiotics bucks the trend of declining research money; the US spending on science has slumped between 2004 and 2012. Particularly hard-hit were "proof-of-concept" studies, the early stage research that often focuses on new drugs — like new antibiotics.
The White House's full budget request will be submitted to Capitol Hill on February 2nd.