Pandemic preparedness is in limbo

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The Covid pandemic is fading into memory, and so is the impetus to do better next time.

How so? The Biden administration seeks to water down language in a pandemic treaty the World Health Organization hopes to finalize next spring.

A recent draft reviewed by POLITICO’s health team in Europe found the U.S. repeatedly asking that binding commitments be made optional.

The U.S. wants the word “shall” to be replaced with “intends” when the text says that countries “shall” cooperate on strengthening pandemic prevention or “shall” develop public health surveillance plans.

The U.S. also requests that provisions African countries want requiring the rich world to share pandemic products like vaccines be made optional.

And on Capitol Hill: Reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which instructs public health agencies on how to prepare for future health threats, faces a tough road.

Though a bill to re-up the expired law by Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey won bipartisan support in the Senate’s health committee in July, the House is divided.

The Energy and Commerce Committee advanced its version on a party-line vote over the summer, with Democrats objecting to a GOP move to flatline funding for a pandemic-preparedness program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats also asked for language expanding the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to combat drug shortages, but Republicans said that would muddy up the bill.

Meanwhile, House conservatives angry over how public health agencies handled Covid want new limits on their authority and threaten to block a floor vote.

Those limits include a reduction in pandemic-preparedness funding to pre-Covid levels and language asserting American sovereignty over the WHO.

Readiness assessed: The WHO and World Bank’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board recently found that the world is falling short when it comes to preparing for the next pandemic, our team in Europe reports.

Amélie Rioux, technical officer for the board’s secretariat at the WHO, said countries aren’t spending enough to shore up the weaknesses in their public health systems that Covid exposed.

“The board has called this ‘canary-in-the-coal-mine issues’ because we see this as the earliest signs of more systemic problems,” she said.

This is where we explore the ideas and innovators shaping health care.

A Florida Republican has a beef with lab-grown meat, our colleague Bruce Ritchie reports. State Rep. Tyler Sirois has proposed legislation that would make it a criminal offense to sell “cultivated” meat in the Sunshine State, arguing that it’s an “affront to nature and creation.”

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Today on our Pulse Check podcast, host Katherine Ellen Foley talks with POLITICO Europe health care reporter Carlo Martuscelli about the U.K.’s approval of a gene-editing treatment for some rare blood diseases that may receive U.S. approval next month.

A novel antibiotic to treat gonorrhea demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials, preliminary results show.

The Phase III trial included 930 people with gonorrhea in Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, Thailand and the U.S.

Researchers found that a single dose of zoliflodacin, developed by Innoviva Specialty Therapeutics, is safe and effective for treating cases of uncomplicated urogenital gonorrhea. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

In addition to its efficacy, zoliflodacin is taken orally, which could aid in patient access and compliance.

The current standard treatment, ceftriaxone, is injected.

The antibiotic, developed with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, uses a unique mechanism to inhibit an enzyme crucial for bacterial function and reproduction.

Why it matters: Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, is increasingly difficult to treat due to antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea.

Left untreated, gonorrhea can create serious and permanent damage, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

While antimicrobial resistance is on the rise across bacteria and viruses, N. gonorrhoeae is particularly adept at evading treatment, with demonstrated resistance to most existing classes of antibiotics. Researchers have recently detected strains that don’t respond to ceftriaxone.

Meanwhile, STD numbers are rising in the U.S. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2017 to 2021, STD cases increased by 7 percent, including a 28 percent increase in gonorrhea cases, reaching more than 700,000 cases in 2021.

What’s next? “These encouraging results should bolster additional, intersectoral efforts to develop safe and effective therapeutic options for gonorrhea and other bacteria that exhibit antimicrobial resistance,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the NIAID director, in a release.

Dr. W. Kimryn Rathmell will be the next leader of the National Cancer Institute and play a principal role in trying to achieve President Joe Biden’s moonshot goal of reducing the cancer death rate by 50 percent over 25 years.

Who is she? Rathmell is a Vanderbilt University professor of medicine and chair of medicine at its medical center.

She treats and studies complex renal cell carcinomas, a type of kidney cancer most common in older men.

Her research has resulted in over 20 years of funding from the National Institutes of Health and more than 200 articles in leading peer-reviewed journals, according to a Vanderbilt release.

What’s next? Rathmell will be the second woman to lead the cancer institute after her immediate predecessor, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli. The Senate confirmed Bertagnolli to lead the National Institutes of Health earlier this month.