Can Economics Solve the Antibiotic Resistance Crisis?

Jul 30, 2012, 4:30 PM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

Brian Quinn / RWJF Brian Quinn

At RWJF, we fund grantees looking for innovative solutions to seemingly intractable health problems.  We take risks to test ideas and approaches that could lead to exponential changes that improve or even save lives.

One of the ways our Pioneer portfolio grantees size up complex public health issues is by using a novel lens to view an existing problem. That’s exactly the approach taken by Extending the Cure, a project that studies the growing problem of antibiotic resistance from an environmental economics perspective.

In a cover story in latest issue of the Milken Institute Review, Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of Extending the Cure, examines the growing – and frightening – problem of antibiotic resistance.  Laxminarayan suggests that antibiotic effectiveness should be viewed as a limited natural resource, one that can be depleted with overuse.  Just as we take steps to preserve clean air and water, we must also conserve antibiotics by using them only when absolutely necessary, he says.

Using this natural resources framing, he points to the types of backwards incentives and market failures in our hospitals and research and development pipeline that have contributed to the problem. His proposal:  Create incentives for conserving current and future antibiotics while simultaneously developing new drug therapies. Laxminarayan says that the current market does not give drug companies incentives to ensure antibiotics are used judiciously.

By looking at the problem of antibiotic resistance through an environmental and economic lens, this project has identified new solutions that traditional public health approaches might have missed.

Let us know what you think on Twitter, Facebook, or by commenting below: What other strategies must be employed to solve this serious public health problem?   How else can we realign incentives to drive health improvement?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.