Experts Explain the Federal Response to Antibiotic Resistance and the Public Health Challenge that it Creates
WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), today held a hearing examining the U.S. public health response to “superbugs,” or antibiotic resistant bacteria. The hearing was sparked by the discovery of the MCR-1 gene in a Pennsylvania woman who contracted E. coli. This is the first time the MCR-1 gene was discovered in the United States. Subcommittee members heard from government witnesses about the extent of immediate superbug risks, and what plans the federal government has to confront both the over-use of antibiotics and also the development of new treatments to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“The detection of this new antibiotic-resistant gene is troubling because it signals the potential arrival of an unstoppable superbug. This gene is resistant to a last-resort antibiotic and has the ability to move from one bacterium to another,” stated full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “While MCR-1 on its own is treatable by other antibiotics, disease experts tell us the fear is not if – but when – this gene transfers and merges with another superbug that is resistant to all other antibiotics. This would create the nightmare scenario of a bacterial infection that cannot be stopped with any known antibiotic treatment.”
Dr. Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) reflected on the unusual case of the Pennsylvania woman with the MCR-1 gene, and asked the witnesses how it was discovered. Dr. Beth Bell, Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease at the CDC, spoke to how increased surveillance can impact prevention and response, like it did with this particular case. The gene was detected using DoD surveillance.
Chairman Murphy asked witnesses about an educational campaign launched by the CDC in 2000 on the importance of improving physician prescribing practices. When questioning Dr. Bell, Chairman Murphy asked if the CDC’s national plan was effective, as prescriptions are still being written at a high rate. Dr. Bell echoed the chairman’s concerns about the over-prescribing of antibiotics, and acknowledged that there are some signs of improvement.
Congress has been active in efforts to encourage the innovation and discovery of new antibiotics – addressing concerns about the limited number of antibiotics in the pipeline, increasing the risk of patients becoming immune to different treatments. Congress has increased funding for these initiatives at CDC, NIH and BARDA. Also, the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now (GAIN) Act was signed into law in 2012, and the House also acted in the 21st Century Cures Act with the Antibiotic Development to Advance Patient Treatment (ADAPT) Act. Building on the progress of the GAIN Act, it would encourage the development of antibiotics for life-threating bacterial infections, as well as provide an alternative regulatory pathway for limited-population antibiotics.
A background memo, witness testimony, and an archived webcast of the markup can be found on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s website here.