Obama wants to pour $1.2B into antibiotic R&D

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama wants to spend $1.2 billion on the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the coming fiscal year, nearly doubling the nation's previous efforts.

The proposal, a facet of the president's coming budget request, would put $650 million in the hands of the National Institutes of Health to fund the development of new anti-infective treatments and the launch of a large-scale study designed to better understand the evolution of drug resistance, the White House said. Another $47 million would go to the FDA to help speed along the review and approval of new treatments, and $280 million would fund the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's efforts to keep tabs on outbreaks. The rest would be split among the Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Defense departments.

Drug-resistant bacteria lead to about 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the White House, and president's fiscal 2016 request would help "combat and prevent antibiotic resistance that will lead to critical new developments that could fundamentally transform how public health prevents the transmission and emergence of antibiotic-resistant infections," the administration said in a statement.

Obama's embrace of antibiotic R&D comes alongside a complementary effort from some of the world's largest drugmakers, which, after years of inattention to the field, have kick-started development programs targeting deadly superbugs. Roche ($RHHBY) has struck a series of high-dollar deals to build its pipeline of anti-infectives, while the bottom-line conscious Actavis ($ACT), recognizing an opportunity, put up $675 million for antibiotic specialist Durata Therapeutics. Late last year, Merck ($MRK) made a splash in the space by agreeing to pay $9.5 billion Cubist Pharmaceuticals and its wide pipeline of critical care treatments.

The White House's disclosure provides another clue that Obama is prioritizing research funding in his latest budget request, slated for release Feb. 2. During his State of the Union address last week, the president unveiled vague plans for a Precision Medicine Initiative, talking up the potential of molecularly targeted therapies and saying "the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome" is poised to lead a new era of medicine. Obama didn't attach any dollar figures to the effort, but many expect it to emulate the planned $4.5 billion BRAIN Initiative, a 2013 initiative through which NIH hands out grants each year with the goal of better understanding neuroscience.

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