Sunday, June 8, 2014

New antibiotics on the horizon: Are we ready?

A previous blog asked:
Photograph depicted a cutaneous abscess,  caused by MRSAWho wouldn't agree that we need an invigorated pipeline of new, effective, and safe antimicrobial drugs to help us counter the specter of resistance? But it does make me wonder: Is it really a good idea to place new weapons in our arsenal when we have demonstrated few reasons to think that we will use them responsibly?
A reinvigoration of the drug pipeline may be starting, given news that a major drug company is re-engaging its research on antibiotics. Moreover, this week we learned about a new highly potent drug, and another one that was just approved by the FDA, for skin infections. Other new drugs are under development as well.

It seems poignant to think about how to make it safe to employ new antibiotics on a wide scale so as not to risk the emergence of new resistance. It's a complex issue, but here are some thoughts.
  • Antimicrobial stewardship programs need to implemented across all healthcare settings. Using antimicrobials in a targeted, appropriate fashion is important for preventing acquisition of new resistance. Progress is being made in some settings (notably children's hospitals), but programs need to be instituted across the board.
  • HAI rates need to be reduced to very low levels across institutions and patient populations. Low rates are important for preventing the spread of resistant infections once they emerge. Substantial opportunities remain to improve infection prevention programs in hospitals.  
  • Patient expectations for drug therapy for common ailments need to be managed. Patients often pressure doctors for antibiotics for common symptoms (e.g., sore throat, congestion), even when etiology (viral versus bacterial) is unclear. Public health messaging, including the use of social media, is important for changing this. 

Undoubtedly, additional things are important as well. I haven't mentioned, for example, the issues surrounding the intensive use of antibiotics in animal farming, the emergence of antibiotic resistance organisms surrounding those practices, and the potential for causing human colonization and disease. If you have additional thoughts, please comment.

An important question is how we can measure progress in these areas. Surveillance for antimicrobial stewardship policy compliance and HAI rates within an institution seems more straightforward than monitoring these across regions. Likewise, monitoring public perception and expectations for antibiotic prescribing practice is complex. Perhaps this is an area where social media monitoring can play a role. Regardless of the difficulties, measuring such things is critical if we are to manage drug resistance moving forward.

(image source: CDC)

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