Panel to look at challenges of fighting superbugs

Bara Vaida

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

Since antibiotics were widely introduced in the mid 1940’s, scientists warned of microbes’ innate ability to evolve and develop resistance. People were cautioned to be judicious with antimicrobials, because overuse could breed “superbugs,” germs resistant to most or all antibiotics.

Indeed, microbes have developed resistance to virtually every new class of antibiotics introduced. Up until the 1980s, however, most pharmaceutical companies kept developing new antibiotics. When a drug developed resistance, there was a new one in the development pipeline that could take its place.

But today that pipeline is almost dry. Scientific and economic challenges of developing new antimicrobials has led to a steep decline in the availability of new antibiotics, and the number of “superbugs” is growing.

Strains of antibiotic-resistant microbes are killing a growing number of people – about 700,000 people are dying annually around the globe from antibiotic resistance, according to the Wellcome Trust.

So what is being done about the lack of new antibiotics?

That is the focus of “A Future Without Antibiotics” panel on May 4, at Health Journalism 2019 in Baltimore. Award-winning journalist and AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna will lead the discussion.

McKenna’s panelists will outline the challenges of finding new antibiotics, and will  highlight where there are promising solutions to fight disease-causing microbes.

“Members should attend because antimicrobial resistance is a perennial story that affects their readers and views,” McKenna says. “This is a fresh angle that may inspire [reporters] to look for similar research in their own cities and coverage areas.”

Panelists include: Lori L. Burrows, professor of biochemistry and associate director of partnerships and outreach at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, Cassandra Quave, assistant professor of dermatology and human health at Emory University, Anthony D. So, professor of practice, director of the IDEA Initiative Innovation Design Enabling Access and director of the strategic policy program ReACT – Action on Antibiotics at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Alexander Sulakvelidze, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Intralytix Inc.

The conversation with researchers and medical experts comes on the heels of several recent stories about a fungus, Candida auris (C. auris) that has become resistant to many if not all existing antibiotics. The fungus is circulating in hospitals and nursing homes worldwide and those with compromised immune systems are at most risk. Hospitals and nursing homes, however, have been reluctant to publicly talk about C. auris, the New York Times reported.

In the U.S., the Centers Disease Control and Prevention says 587 people have been diagnosed with C. auris and have become ill from it, and an additional 30 patients were probably sickened by it, as of February 2019. Most of the patients were diagnosed in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, but C. auris has been found in as many as 11 states. Though the CDC can’t say how many patients have died from the resistant fungus, the agency says 30 percent to 60 percent of those who develop infections from C. auris die.

To learn more about the future of antibiotics and medicine, attend this panel on Saturday, May 4 ,from 4:40 pm to 6 pm.

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