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Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

James Gathany/CDC

Bad bugs inspire White House task force and $20 million prize

In the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the U.S. government is dangling a new incentive: a $20 million prize for a quick diagnostic test to recognize highly resistant infections. The prize is just one in a slew of actions announced by the White House today to signal its greater attention to the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Alongside the prize, the administration announced a national strategy that sets goals to be achieved by 2020, including better surveillance of highly resistant infections, faster development of new antibiotics, and more judicious use of existing drugs. The president also signed an executive order creating both an advisory council of nongovernmental experts and an interagency task force, co-chaired by the secretaries of the Health and Human Services (HHS), Defense, and Agriculture departments. “This represents a major elevation of the issue, a major upgrading of the administration’s effort to help address it,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a press conference today.

The diagnostics prize, co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, will be the subject of an upcoming public meeting, where HHS will ask for feedback to zero in on the kind of test that would be most useful, the White House explained in a fact sheet also released today.

Meanwhile, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its ideas on ways to meet some of those broad goals. Their report on combating antibiotic resistance suggests, for example, a national network of laboratories to track highly resistant cases, and the widespread use of genome analysis to trace resistant strains to the origin of an outbreak. They also encourage the Food and Drug Administration to create a new approval pathway for urgently needed antimicrobials. Among their more concrete suggestions: that the administration provide $150 million per year over 7 years for basic research that might lead to new antibiotics or to “non-traditional” ways to overcome infections.

The administration, of course, doesn’t have to do any of those things. The newly established task force will address suggestions from the PCAST report, but won’t necessarily accept them, Holdren said. The task force has until 15 February 2015 to offer up its own action plan.