Don’t cut the CARBs

Building on the ambitious Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB) process, the President’s budget request this week called for dramatically increased funding, $1.2 billion. This funding request is at the correct magnitude and demonstrates appropriate balance between various priorities. While Congress will surely have views on the specifics, I hope for broad consensus that very bold action must be taken along the general lines described by the President. Paying $1.2 billion dollars a year as an “insurance premium” to avoid the end of antibiotics is a critical policy priority. I suspect that every scientist and policy wonk working on these issues would agree with this statement.

We know resistance warrants at least a billion-dollar annual investment in the US, based on the economic and policy work undertaken over the last few years in the US (the ERG report for HHS and the CDC Threat Assessment), England (the Chatham House working group and the O’Neill Review on AMR), the EU (DRIVE-AB), and the WHO draft Global Action Plan on AMR. The policy consensus is strong to act boldly.

This week the House Energy & Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of legislation under the 21st Century Cures Initiative (full text here). The proposals fall short of what we need.  Solving this problem will require spending real money.

Section 1061 permits early release of antibiotics with less data on safety and efficacy, together with a more restrictive label. This provision is no surprise and has been in the works for a while (prior versions here and here). While it will undoubtably get antibiotics to the market more quickly, that will not be a panacea for antibiotic innovation unless we fix reimbursement. We will get some drugs several months earlier with thinner data packages on safety and efficacy; as a result, these drugs will not sell well until better data is available. Innovation will not be rewarded.

Section 1062 updates how we test for antibiotic susceptibility and how that is communicated on the drug label. My concern is whether this provision would further encourage off-label use of antibiotics. Antibiotic should be used with better evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Section 1063 creates “wildcard exclusivity,” a radical and controversial departure from our 226-year history with US patent law. The Constitution (Art. I, sec. 8, cl.8) gives Congress the authority to create IP:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The “exclusive right” is tied to the invention itself (“their respective writings and discoveries”). If you discover a new drug, you get a patent on that drug.

Section 1063 breaks from the Constitutional standard and historical practice by offering a 12 month period of exclusivity on a completely unrelated drug. Create a new antibiotic, and the reward is a fully transferrable 12 months of exclusivity that could be given to a drug for cancer, heart disease or Hepatitis C. This reward is very indirect and inefficient, and can be quite costly as it will protect billions of dollars of drug sales from generic entry. The provision also calls for “donations” to the NIH and patient access programs, but understand that all of these funds come from our health insurance system through higher drug prices when generic drugs are delayed. It will also be very difficult to control this idea. If antibiotics are worthy of wildcard exclusivity, why not cancer, Alzheimer’s and every orphan drug?

Data supports the need for billion-dollar incentives for antibiotics; wildcard exclusivity is just a poor way to achieve that goal.

Finally, Section 1064 boosts the hospital DRG for the cost of new antibiotic drugs. But this fix only helps inpatient antibiotics (typically IV drugs) and we also need new oral antibiotics. While it increases payments to hospitals, there is no guarantee of any increase to companies unless they market to hospitals and convince them to pay more. Finally, this does nothing for reimbursement for infection control, diagnostics, vaccines, and antibiotic stewardship. Medicare should pay for those things too: we know that infection control has been essential in bending the curve on MRSA.

The US Congress and the Administration have an opportunity to work together to truly reform the broken business model for antibiotics. Let’s make policy based on the best available evidence.

Prior TIE coverage on antibiotics.


Hidden information below


Email Address*