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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 15: Playoff outlook dicey for those without Chiefs

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 15: Playoff outlook dicey for those without Chiefs

UPDATE: 12:02 p.m. Saturday
The opening week of the fantasy playoffs has begun, and the only certainty is that folks facing the Kansas City Chiefs’ stars are in a world of hurt.

Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill have already posted huge numbers in their Thursday night comeback against the Chargers. But fantasy victory is still several days away because of the COVID rescheduling of three games.

The good news is that, with Raiders-Browns moved to Monday and Washington-Eagles and Seahawks-Rams shifted to Tuesday, there is more time for the dozens of currently sidelined players to make it through COVID protocols. The bad news: there are literally DOZENS of impactful players in limbo.

For now, we’ll focus on players who have been ruled out. That list includes Detroit RB D’Andre Swift, San Fran RB Elijah Mitchell, Browns RB Kareem Hunt, Patriots RB Damien Harris, Seattle RB Alex Collins, Jaguars RB Carlos Hyde, Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins, Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr., Lions TE T.J. Hockenson, Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield, Giants QB Daniel Jones and WFT QB Taylor Heinicke.

The most significant “questionable” player right now is Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson, who is nursing an injured ankle. He is said to be a game-time decision for Sunday’s late-afternoon game against Green Bay. The same holds for Vikings wideout Adam Thielen, who is hoping to play Monday night in Chicago.

In Miami, the Dolphins’ top two running backs, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, have been taken off the COVID list and cleared to play, which is bad news for folks who grabbed Duke Johnson off waivers earlier this week.

ORIGINAL POST: 10:58 a.m. Wednesday
Playoff time is here. And whether you’re playing the next two or three weeks for your league championship, or to avoid the cellar, you’re about to make the most critical lineup calls of the season.

Just because you took star players in the first rounds of the draft in late August doesn’t mean you should start them in this third week of December.

Case in point: It would have seemed blasphemous back in the summer, but it IS possible that the top two quarterbacks in fantasy should be left on your bench in the playoff opener. That’s right, the Chiefs’ all-world Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Bench Mahomes? Seems rash, but he’s going against the Chargers’ No. 5 pass defense on Thursday night, and he has thrown multiple TD passes only twice in the past two months. He has had three games with a goose egg in that department. Not quite MVP numbers.

Allen looked great last week in the Bills’ comeback in Tampa Bay, at least until he injured his foot. He’s listed as questionable against a not-terrible Carolina defense. But what’s really questionable is how much a not-full-speed Allen can help fantasy owners if he’s not running much.

If you’re feeling especially frisky, there are three QBs you can find on waivers that have a very good chance to surpass the big two this week. Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa (vs. Jets), the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. Falcons) and … yes … even the Bears’ Justin Fields going against that not-very-vaunted Vikings defense.

Here are some other headliners that might be properly set aside on your bench this week:

Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys RB) — Zeke hasn’t been himself for some time because of various injuries and has seen reduced duty, even in last week’s key game in Washington. He has reached the end zone in only two of his past eight games. His teammate, Tony Pollard, might be a better bet if he returns from a foot injury as expected against the Giants.

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Washington Football Team defensive end Daniel Wise (92) tackles Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) during an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

Saquon Barkley (Giants RB) — The oft-injured New York star had a season-best 64 yards last week and his first touchdown since Oct. 3. But the Giants’ offensive line is still a mess, and the Dallas defense they are facing this week is getting more dominant each week.

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New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Munson)

Austin Ekeler (Chargers RB) — He’s one of the three best RBs this season, averaging more than one touchdown a game. But his ankle injury, combined with his early Thursday game, means Ekeler might not be 100 percent against the improved Chiefs defense. Coach Brandon Staley says he expects Ekeler to play, but be ready to move quickly if he cannot.

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Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt (57) knocks the football away from Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

Terry McLaurin (Washington WR) — The WFT’s best receiver went catchless last week after being injured against Dallas, but he has been a non-entity lately. Only 73 yards over the past three games combined, and it’s not certain who will be playing quarterback this week against the Eagles.

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Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) breaks up a pass intended for Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

D.J. Moore (Panthers WR) — Here’s another top pass catcher who has been hurt by his team’s uncertain quarterbacking. He has only one TD catch in the past nine games, not likely to change with Carolina going up against a now-desperate Bills defense.

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (2) is unable to hang on to a pass as he is tackled by Miami Dolphins cornerback Javaris Davis (38) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Russell Wilson (Seahawks QB) — Speaking of uncertain quarterbacking, the Seattle star has been a little better recently after an ugly return from his finger injury. While he has a pair of TD passes in each of his past three games, he’s got Aaron Donald and the Rams chasing him this week. It could get ugly again for Mr. Ciara.

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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson holds a sponge near his taped injured finger during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Seattle. Wilson left the game after the injury and the Rams won 26-17. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SITTING STARS
Seattle RB Rashaad Penny had a career day last week against Houston, but he won’t repeat that against the Rams. … Don’t expect the Seahawks’ receiving duo of Tyler Lockett or D.K. Metcalf to do well, either, especially the latter . … Tampa Bay’s run defense will put a wet blanket on the numbers for Saints RB Alvin Kamara, as will the hoarding of TD opportunities by running QB Taysom Hill. … Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris won’t run wild against Tennessee as the desperate Steelers focus on the passing game. …And while Jacksonville RB James Robinson is still a long-term keeper, the Jaguars’ are such an Urban disaster that you can’t start any of their players, even against the almost-as-meager Texans.

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Running back (20) Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball and scores a touchdown against the Houston Texans in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Houston, TX. Seahawks defeated the Texans 33-13. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)

MATCHUP GAME
We didn’t like what we saw of the Vikings’ defense late last Thursday night, so we’re thinking Chicago QB Justin Fields, if healthy, and WR Allen Robinson could be fantasy playoff winners on Monday night. … 49ers TE George Kittle has been all-world the past couple of weeks and will be again against Atlanta. So will teammate Brandon Aiyuk. … Houston rookie QB Davis Mills has looked good lately, and might look great against the Jaguars. … Same goes for Tennessee RB D’onta Foreman vs. the Steelers. … And with Miami forced to rely on the passing game this week, look for big games from wideouts Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker against the Jets.

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Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields flips the ball as he is hit by Green Bay Packers’ Kingsley Keke and Kenny Clark during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

INJURY WATCH
Lots of uncertainty about the status of Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, who will be limited by an injured ankle if he plays at all against Green Bay. … Meanwhile, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is complaining about his injured foot, though he’s still a must-start. … Miami’s top three running backs are all on the COVID list, which means either Duke Johnson or Malcolm Brown could see No. 1 duty against the lowly Jets. … New York, for its part, will get rookie RB Michael Carter back. … Players added to the COVID list include revived Rams wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and Browns WR Jarvis Landry. … Among the long list of questionables: Arizona RB James Conner, Rams RB Darrell Henderson, Denver RB Melvin Gordon, San Francisco RB Elijah Mitchell, Cleveland RB Kareem Hunt, New England RB Damien Harris, Philly RB Miles Sanders, Vikings wideout Adam Thielen, Arizona WR DeAndre Hopkins, Chargers WR Mike Williams, Raiders tight end Darren Waller, Lions TE T.J. Hockenson, and two quarterbacks: Philly’s Jalen Hurts and Washington’s Taylor Heinicke.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) sits on the ground in front of teammate Mark Andrews (89) after being injured during an NFL football game, Sunday, December 12, 2021 in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

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THE DEEPEST SLEEPER
Like most of you, we had never heard of Lions RB Craig Reynolds until last weekend, when the rookie recorded 13 touches for 99 yards in his first game off the practice squad. He hails from Kutztown University, a school that has produced hall of famer Andre Reed and little else in terms of NFL talent. But D’Andre Swift could be done for the rest of the season, and Jamaal Williams is still on the COVID list. So, Reynolds could be a last-second option for those going up against Arizona on Sunday. Grab him off the waiver wire, just in case.

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Detroit Lions’ Craig Reynolds warms up before an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

THE THURSDAY PICK
Chiefs at Chargers (+3½):
Pick: Chiefs by 7

THE SATURDAY PICKS
Raiders at Browns (-6½):
Pick: Browns by 7

Patriots at Colts (-2½):
Pick: Colts by 3

1639544503 381 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 15 Are there stars
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

BREAKING NEWS
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Who’s the best fit for Orlando Magic with No. 1 in 2022 draft?

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Who’s the best fit for Orlando Magic with No. 1 in 2022 draft?

It didn’t take long for the Orlando Magic’s draft lottery celebration to turn into speculation.

Moments after the Magic won the draft lottery Tuesday in Chicago, questions quickly started to surround Orlando, the winner of the No. 1 pick in the June 23 NBA draft.

What will be the Magic’s approach to having the top pick?

Will their philosophy during the scouting combine and predraft machinations change?

Are they drafting based on need?

Jeff Weltman, president of basketball operations, made it clear they’re not going into the process looking to draft based off need.

“We’re at the stage right now where we’re not a need-based team,” Weltman said. “We’re looking for talent, character and guys who fit the way we want to play and the way we want to grow the team.”

Coach Jamahl Mosley echoed Weltman.

“It’s constantly adding the high basketball IQ, the competitiveness, the toughness, the fighter — the guy that’s willing to come in and work with this group of guys,” Mosley said. “Jeff and those guys do a phenomenal job of evaluating the talent, getting to know these guys over time and then we’ll go from there.”

Orlando has another month to decide what they’ll do with the No. 1 pick. Here are the three best fits for the Magic:

1. Jabari Smith (Auburn)

Height: 6-foot-10 | Weight: 220 pounds | Age: 19

Smith’s best offensive skill — shooting — is an area the Magic can improve.

Orlando’s 33.1% 3-point percentage during 2021-22 was the league’s third-worst mark and it’s been a bottom-five shooting team the past two seasons.

Taking Smith, who shot 42% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts during his lone season with the Tigers, would instantly help make life easier for the Magic’s playmakers in the halfcourt.

Smith isn’t just dangerous in spot-up situations. At 6-foot-10 with a high release point, he can shoot over defenders with ease from multiple areas of the floor without needing to create much of an advantage.

His size, length and athleticism make him a disruptive perimeter defender and someone who doesn’t have trouble switching across multiple positions.

Because of his shaky ballhandling and inconsistent interior scoring, there are concerns about whether Smith will develop into the go-to scorer/creator the Magic need. But Smith would be the cleanest fit in what Orlando already has started to build with its roster.

2. Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)

Height: 7 feet | Weight: 195 pounds | Age: 20

Holmgren is arguably the most polarizing top college player in this year’s draft.

His combination of rim protection (3.7 blocks with the Bulldogs), handles, touch near the rim, basketball IQ and floor-spacing ability for his size (7 feet) make him one of the more distinctive prospects in a while.

Holmgren’s size, length and versatility — he’s light enough on his feet to guard on the perimeter — is a profile Orlando has shown an affinity for in previous drafts.

The Magic started two-big lineups with Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba, and Holmgren could be a seamless fit next to Carter in the frontcourt so they can maintain rim protection at all times, a core principle of Mosley’s defensive system.

There are significant concerns about how effective Holmgren can be in the post on both ends of the floor and as a finisher at the rim because of his skinny frame for his height. Holmgren’s outside jumper (39% on 3s with Gonzaga) would have to be consistent for him to be an offensive threat.

Holmgren’s potential is evident and he fits into what the Magic already have, but there are questions of whether he’ll maximize his skillset.

3. Paolo Banchero (Duke)

Height: 6-foot-10 | Weight: 250 | Age: 19

Banchero’s skillset coming out of Duke suggests he can be a go-to option at the next level.

With the Blue Devils, Banchero thrived in creating opportunities for himself and others off the dribble. He’s a versatile scorer who finished well around the rim because of his strength, footwork and touch.

Banchero is one of the better-passing top prospects (3.2 assists as a forward) who can serve as an offensive hub, which the Magic could use after having the league’s second-worst offensive rating in 2021-22.

His outside shooting (33.8% from beyond the arc) is an area he’ll need to improve.

Banchero also wasn’t consistently locked in as a defender at Duke and it’s not clear how switchable he’ll be at the next level.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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Rookie Christopher Morel’s special moment pumps life into the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild plan: ‘It’s so cool’

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Rookie Christopher Morel’s special moment pumps life into the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild plan: ‘It’s so cool’

If the Chicago Cubs could bottle moments like Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about people calling this a rebuild.

Christopher Morel’s bat-flipping celebration after homering in his first major-league at-bat, combined with Brandon Hughes’ five strikeouts in 1 ⅔ innings in his big-league debut, provided Cubs fans with hope the future might be brighter than imagined.

That’s what an infusion of youth can do.

“It just brings that energy, that new energy,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “It’s having a good balance of both. We have so many good veteran guys around here now that bring the right energy from that side and that aspect.

“But seeing these young guys come up, kind of a deer-in-the-headlights (look) a little bit. They don’t know what to expect. They just go out and play and play so wholeheartedly and so natural. It’s just fun to see all that emotion come out of them.”

Morel was in the starting lineup at third base Wednesday, still flying from the electric moment in the eighth inning Tuesday. The 22-year-old call-up from Double-A Tennessee knew when he stepped up that Willson Contreras had homered in his first at-bat in 2016.

“I saw it on the scoreboard and I said to him, ‘Hey, I’m going to make my first at-bat a home run just like you,’ ” Morel said.

The moment the ball left the bat, Contreras jumped out of the dugout like the Cubs had won the pennant. It was an instant flashback to June 19, 2016, at Wrigley, when he homered in his first major-league at-bat on Father’s Day against the Pirates.

“It was amazing,” Contreras recalled Wednesday. “A good introduction for me in the big leagues.”

Justin Steele chimed in, recalling watching the shot six years ago when he pitched for Class A South Bend.

“Pretty sure me and Adbert (Alzolay) watched that home run together,” Steele told Contreras.

Morel’s homer sparked a wild reaction from the crowd at Wrigley, which already was on its feet for the 3-2 pitch. He performed a semi-moonwalk out of the box while flipping his bat for what he insisted was the first time in his career.

Really? His first-ever bat flip?

“Like this, yes,” he said. “Last year I hit a walk-off and I flipped my bat, but not like this.”

Morel became the ninth Cub to homer in his first major-league at-bat and the first since Contreras.

“I wasn’t thinking about it until it happened,” Hendricks said of the coincidence. “(Contreras) did it on the first pitch, of course. But we thought about it right away, especially Willson running out there giving him a hug. It was just an awesome, awesome moment for him. Going out there and doing that, it’s so cool to see things like that happen.”

Contreras said he was waiting for Morel to “do something positive, either a blooper or a base hit.”

Morel did something even better.

“Hitting a home run is pretty good,” Contreras said. “Almost nobody can do that in the big leagues.”

Manager David Ross called it a moment Cubs fans will always remember and said he and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy had “swelling” in their eyes.

“That’s what stories are made of, and I’ll never forget that,” Ross said. “It reminded me of Willson’s first at-bat, that emotion. And then I started laughing when he nearly missed first base, like Mark McGwire (after breaking the home run record).”

The Cubs were riding a wave entering Wednesday night’s game, with a four-game winning streak and Marcus Stroman scheduled to return to the mound Thursday after his COVID-19-related IL stint. Closer David Robertson was cleared to return from his COVID-related absence Wednesday.

Team President Jed Hoyer doesn’t want his plan labeled a “rebuild,” a term the Cubs embraced a decade ago before it became associated with another word — tanking.

But when kids such as Morel, Steele, Hughes and Keegan Thompson enjoy some success, “rebuild” doesn’t sound quite as offensive. Most Cubs fans, in fact, would prefer to watch unproven 22-year-olds develop at Wrigley than former prospects signed on the cheap or 30-something pitchers who can be moved at the trade deadline.

“We have a lot of good, young talent, and they are hungry,” Contreras said. “They bring a lot of positive energy around the clubhouse, which is always good to have.”

Hendricks and Contreras helped establish the winning culture on the North Side in their early years, and both said they hope the younger players understand they’re here to keep that culture alive.

“We’re trying to hold on to that,” Hendricks said. “And everybody that comes into this environment, we hope that’s what they feel.”

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Annabelle De St. Maurice: We’re losing the fight against superbugs, but there’s still hope

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Annabelle De St. Maurice: We’re losing the fight against superbugs, but there’s still hope

As parents, we inherently want to protect our children. We tell them stories with happy endings and reassure them that there aren’t monsters hiding under the bed.

But there’s an enemy living among us that poses a fatal threat to kids and adults alike — and we’re simply not doing enough to stop it.

These enemies are “superbugs” — bacteria and fungi that are resistant to antibiotics and other medications. All microbes, from everyday bacteria to killer superbugs, are constantly evolving. And paradoxically, exposing microbes to antimicrobials — whether a common antibiotic for strep throat or a potent antifungal treatment given in the hospital — can make them stronger in the long run.

While most of the microbes die when treated, the ones that survive can reproduce. These new generations of microbes can build up resistance to certain antimicrobials, rendering some medications less effective or ineffective over time.

Unfortunately, this natural evolutionary process is speeding up for several reasons. We greatly overuse antibiotics in patients with viruses, like the flu, common colds and bronchitis — without benefit. And modern medical care has increased the demand for antibiotics. Advances in cancer care, organ transplants and surgeries such as hip and knee replacements have become much more common. These procedures can extend and improve life, but patients often require antimicrobials because they are at high risk of developing infections.

Bacteria are mutating at a speed that outpaces the development of antibiotics. Penicillin was discovered in 1941, but it wasn’t until 1967 that penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumococcus was first identified. By contrast, consider an antibiotic for multidrug-resistant bacteria released in 2015, called ceftazidime-avibactam. That same year a strain of bacteria emerged that was resistant to this new antibiotic.

Drug-resistant pathogens are one of the greatest healthcare threats of our time — for everyone, everywhere, including adults and children. More than 1.2 million people died worldwide from antibiotic-resistant infections in 2019 alone. Multidrug-resistant infections are on the rise in kids. More of these infections originate outside of our hospitals and within our communities.

Without effective antibiotics, run-of-the-mill pneumonia or skin infections can become life-threatening.

COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. Amid the widespread uncertainty and limited treatment options at the beginning of the pandemic, doctors often used antibiotics to treat COVID-19 patients as they tried to help them. Patients may also have been given antibiotics in instances in which it was difficult to distinguish between bacterial pneumonia, which requires antibiotics, and COVID-19.

Hospital stewardship programs — which manage the careful and optimal use of antimicrobial treatments — also had to redirect their limited resources away from antibiotic use to focus on the complex administration of COVID-19 therapeutics. And severely ill patients on ventilators were at a higher risk of contracting secondary infections, especially while their immune system was weakened.

These factors led to an increase in drug-resistant infections acquired in hospitals during the pandemic. Drug-resistant staph infections, MRSA, jumped 34% for hospitalized patients in the last quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

Prior to COVID-19, we made initial progress in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. In 2014, California was the first state to pass a law requiring antimicrobial stewardship programs in hospitals. In 2019, Medicare began requiring antibiotic stewardship programs.

Some modest federal investments have also been made in antimicrobial research and development, but not enough to generate the pipeline patients need. We must increase support for antimicrobial stewardship practices, which were under-resourced even before the pandemic. Teaching practitioners to safely use and monitor antimicrobial treatments is a significant step.

We also need to develop novel antimicrobial medicines capable of defeating the superbugs that have grown resistant to previous generations of treatments. But market incentives are misaligned. Because doctors prudently limit their use of antimicrobials to avoid further resistance, there isn’t high demand to sustain the development of new products, which take years of research and billions of dollars in investments.

As a result, many large biopharmaceutical companies have stopped antimicrobial research entirely. And many smaller startups have had success at first, only to face bankruptcy. That’s part of the reason why there have been few new classes of antibiotics developed in the last 35 years.

This is a textbook case of a market failure, but government intervention can help realign market incentives.

The PASTEUR Act is a bipartisan bill in Congress that would establish a payment model for critically needed antimicrobials.

Currently, the government pays manufacturers based on the volume of drugs sold. But under PASTEUR, the government would enter into contracts with manufacturers and pay a predetermined amount for access to their novel antimicrobials — allowing scientists to innovate new treatments without fear of an insufficient return on investment due to low sales volumes.

Essentially, the bill would switch the government from a “pay-per-use” model for antimicrobials to a subscription-style model that pays for the value antimicrobials bring to society. By delinking payments to antimicrobial makers from sales volumes, the measure would stimulate investment in new antibiotics.

The bill would also provide resources to strengthen hospital antimicrobial stewardship programs, which help clinicians use antimicrobials prudently and help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closely monitor resistance. Hospitals should join public health leaders in supporting this legislation and invest more of their resources in their antimicrobial stewardship programs.

Unfortunately, superbugs aren’t an easy enemy to defeat. We need to be fighting them more vigorously to ensure that they don’t get around our best defenses.

Annabelle de St. Maurice is an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and head of pediatric infection control and co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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