February 02, 2015

Research Roundup: The 21st Century Cures Act, US funding for antimicrobial resistance, vaccine development and funding, and more

Senior Program Assistant

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Last April, Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) launched the 21st Century Cures initiative, holding hearings and consultations to identify ways that Congress can accelerate Americans' access to new treatments from the development to delivery stage. A discussion draft of the legislation was released last week by Republican members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced on Thursday that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee will release legislation to complement the 21st Century Cures Act, stating that “One of the committee’s top priorities this year will be modernizing the Food and Drug Administration [FDA], helping to get treatments and medicines to patients as quickly and as safely as possible.”

President Obama submitted his annual budget request to Congress yesterday, in which he asked for US$1.2 billion to fight antimicrobial resistance. This funding would be invested into developing new antibiotics and diagnostics, monitoring drug-resistant infections, and preventing the spread of resistant “superbugs,” particularly in healthcare settings. Obama also asked for $280 and $77 million, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA, respectively, to combat the overuse of antibiotics in both humans and livestock.

Last week witnessed major wins for vaccine development and access. The US Agency for International Development announced that the US Government will commit $1 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, over the next four years.

Pfizer, Inc., a major American pharmaceutical company, pledged to reduce the price of its pneumococcal vaccine by 6 percent in poor countries. The announcement has been greeted with disparate responses. Kate Elder, a vaccines policy advisor at Doctors without Borders called the price cut "tiny" and "inadequate," however Bill Gates warned that such criticism discourages pharmaceutical companies from investing into the research and development of drugs for developing countries.

Serum Institute of India is currently developing several products intended to rival existing vaccines and to be sold at significantly lower prices. The Institute’s human papillomavirus vaccine could be available as early as 2018, and the manufacturers plan to sell it at one-third of the price of Merck & Co.’s Gardasil vaccine.