Obama administration taking steps to increase bioterror vaccine creation

The Obama administration is taking steps to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to innovate as it instead backs off the development of vitally needed antibiotics.

The federal agency that is overseeing the development of treatments for bioterrorism agents such as anthrax is now broadening its scope to include more commonly acquired infections, according to the New York Times.

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority awarded its first “multi-use” contract to Achaogen. It received an initial $27 million to develop an antibiotic that could be used against plague and tularemia, as well as antibiotic resistant infections.

The number of new antibiotics in development by pharmaceutical companies remains distressingly low, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration told the New York Times. It is feared that everyday infections could become a major cause of death as the world’s arsenal against superbugs weakens.

“For these infections, we’re back to dancing around a bubbling cauldron while rubbing two chicken bones together,” Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at Harbor-UCLA. Medical Center in Torrance, California, said, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the idea of directly subsidizing drug companies remains politically unpopular. Some proponents, however, believe that it will be necessary to bridge the gap between the high value that new antibiotics would have for society and the low returns that they would provide to their makers.

“There is a market failure,” Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, according to the New York Times. “We need to look at ways to spur development of this market.”

In addition, tax breaks and extra protection from competition are being considered to protect new antibiotic development. Policy makers are also considering additional federal funding of research and guaranteed purchases by the government. These measures have been used to some success to spur the development of drugs for rarer diseases through the Orphan Drug Act, as well as for those that affect predominantly poorer countries.