The number of resistant bacterial infections has increased in recent years but the development of new antibiotics has slowed, so there are fewer new drugs capable of fighting infections that are growing harder to treat. Without an influx of new antibiotics, it is even more critical that new, life-threatening strains of bacteria are not created or allowed to proliferate.
Antibiotics that were once potent anti-bacteriological agents have become within a generation or two ineffective in managing infections. But there remains a relative dearth of new antibiotics to replace the old ones. The reason? The cost of production. With a $2.6 billion average investment required to develop a new drug that will be sold at a low price, the immediate return on investment is not there for antibiotics the way it exists for some other classes of drugs.
The costs of resistant bacteria and untreatable infections are undoubtedly even higher. The cost of ineffectively and repeatedly treating conditions with ineffective drugs, the cost of patient conditions worsening and requiring more difficult and expensive procedures and of course, the social and personal cost of deaths tied to resistant bacteria. Thus, antimicrobial stewardship is one of the most powerful tools healthcare providers have to control the public health threat of resistant bacteria.
Implementing an antimicrobial stewardship program (ASP) can drastically reduce both the rate of infections within hospital environments and the genesis of deadly new superbugs, many of which are the products of healthcare environments. Among other duties, a robust ASP ensures careful monitoring of antibiotic prescriptions to make sure that they are not incorrectly or unnecessarily prescribed.
The trend in antibiotic development by the pharmaceutical industry may be turning around. From 2013 to 2015, six new antibiotics were developed (although only two address antibiotic resistance).1 Providers have some new treatments but these antibiotics are not being developed at a rate that can keep up with the pace of antibiotic resistance. The best approach is to help prevent resistant bacteria from growing.
Antimicrobial stewardship does not depend on a constant stream of expensive biomedical innovation that may have an unforeseen end point. The decline in new antibiotic development highlights that antimicrobial stewardship is critical to keeping patients healthy and bacterial infections treatable.
- Bartlett MD, John G. What Were the Top Infectious Disease Stories in 2015? December 11, 2015: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/855608