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Battling superbugs no longer possible without new antibiotics

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance will claim healthy lives without action, say researchers.

Scientists from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) warn antibiotics are urgently needed to prevent deaths from common drug resistant infections. The group says lack of effective antibiotics has become a problem that will increasingly claim the lives of healthy people without immediate actions.

The group says surgery, organ transplants and chemotherapy may no longer be possible without drug company incentives, funding for antibiotic research and development, rapid identification of infection and other recommended measures highlighted in an IDSA report.

Antibiotic resistance a "dire" issue

According to the scientists, antibiotic resistance is a "dire" problem brought about by a number of "complex" factors.

The IDSA cites "poor management" of antibiotics that has occurred over the past 70 years. They say the war on super bugs "has failed". Antibiotics have been overused and over prescribed and bacteria have become clever at mutating to avoid destruction from existing antimicrobials.

Without new antimicrobials to combat infections like MRSA, Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella, E. coli and others, the IDSA says "lives will be devastated and lost."

Focus needed to save lives from drug resistant bacteria

In their report, the IDSA says Congress, federal agencies and health care providers across the United States must focus on what they say is a "crisis" that has lacked clear guidance from the FDA about how to design and implement research and development of new antibiotics.

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Compounding the problem is lack of interest from pharmaceutical companies who gain more financially from drugs that treat chronic diseases like diabetes and are used for a lifetime. Antibiotics have stricter regulations.

Brad Spellberg, MD, FIDSA, associate professor of medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute says, “We’re facing a day in the not-too-distant future where people will be outraged with our inability to treat infectious diseases, and wonder why something wasn’t done earlier."

IDSA recommendations

The group supports two pieces of legislation - the Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance (STAAR) Act and the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now (GAIN) Act, but they say much more needs to be done including fundings for research and development of new drugs, creating incentives for drug companies and removing barriers and supporting development of rapid testing to identify infections at point of patient care.

To help combat the consequences of superbugs that are untreatable, the group is is asking for a designated leader within the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) to coordinate the efforts outlined. They also suggest an Antimicrobial Innovation and Conservation (AIC) Fee to help fund the cost of developing antibiotics that would be charged against wholesale purchase of antimicrobials used in agriculture, humans and animals. The IDSAA suggests small non-profit Public Private Partnerships willing to invest in antibiotic development. Lastly, the say there is a need to boost surveillance and immunization against infectious diseases.

The infectious disease experts say today there are just two pharmaceutical companies actively researching and developing antibiotics, with a few smaller companies in the arena. In 1990, there were nearly 20. Drug resistant infections cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $21 billion to $34 billion annually, according to the authors. The goal of the IDSA is to have 10 new antibiotics developed by 2020 through an initiative launched April 2010. They say since then one antibiotic has been approved.

The authors write, "Seven decades of medical advances enabled by antibiotics are now seriously threatened by the convergence of relentlessly rising antibiotic resistance and the alarming and ongoing withdrawal of most major pharmaceutical companies from the antibiotic market."

The paper is published in commemoration of World Health Day 2011 and appears in the journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases". The authors say the war on so called superbugs will be lost if action is not taken to develop new antibiotics, increase public awareness and develop incentives for research and development of antimicrobials. The IDSA warns antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest threats to human health worldwide" and that MRSA kills more Americans annually than "emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and homicide combined."

Clinical Infections Diseases: doi: 10.1093/cid/cir154
"Combating Antimicrobial Resistance: Policy Recommendations to Save Lives"

Image credit: Wikimedia commons