FDA asks Lilly, Zoetis to help it thwart antibiotic resistance

It's well-documented that antibiotic resistance is a growing public health threat. Drug-resistant bacteria infect about 2 million Americans a year, causing at least 23,000 deaths, according to CDC data. Now, the FDA is enlisting antibiotics producers like Eli Lilly and Zoetis to help it cut down on the drugs' use in livestock and keep resistance from mounting.

Wednesday, the agency issued final guidance asking drugmakers and animal health companies to revise labels on their antibiotics, striking references to animal production to reflect medicinal uses only. Once companies elect to change their labels, using those drugs to fatten up livestock will become illegal, and their therapeutic use will require a vet's oversight.

The FDA has requested that animal pharma companies let it know within three months that they're signing onto the plan; after that, they will have three years to make the switch. As Reuters reports, Lilly ($LLY) and Zoetis ($ZTS), two of the biggest animal antibiotics producers, have already agreed to stem their use.

According to FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor, working cooperatively with the pharma industry is "the fastest way to achieve our goal." He said in a statement that, "based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort."

But critics claim the agency needs tighter restrictions--and a way to enforce them--if it wants to substantially curb farmers' antibiotic use. "This voluntary, pro-industry approach is a step in the wrong direction," U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), said in a statement, as quoted by Bloomberg.

But whether or not the guidance has its desired effect, Zoetis faces only a potential "small negative" effect on business thanks to its wide array of product offerings, Morningstar analyst David Krempa told Reuters. Jeff Simmons, president of Lilly's Elanco Animal Health unit, expressed similar unconcern. "We don't see this as having a financially material impact on our company," he told the news service.

- read the FDA release
- get more from Reuters
- see Bloomberg's take