Superbugs are not the heroes the name might suggest. They are bacteria or fungi resistant to the antibiotics available to current medical science.
Superbugs can affect anyone, at any age, in any country. They are projected to kill more than 10 million people per year by 2050, more than those who currently die of cancer.
The CDC views this superbug crisis — technically known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) — as one of the most alarming health threats we face.
It seems like so long ago and from someplace so far away, but it was just over two years ago that the first reported hospital diagnosis of COVID-19 in Florida was right here in Sarasota.
Florida’s experience with the pandemic, which seemed to come out of nowhere, is exactly why we need to be prepared. Superbugs are coming — and in fact, are already here.
We can’t blame the bacteria for developing a resistance to the drugs our scientists have developed to stop them. Doctors are overprescribing some antibiotics and others are being used on livestock in our food chain, so it was all but inevitable that the bugs would build up a resistance.
AMR is already having, and will continue to have, a significant economic impact, and it will require strong public health and prevention measures as well as extensive medical surveillance to help curb the spread.
The problem continues to spiral out of control, and there isn’t enough innovation taking place in medical research against AMR. This is in part due to the financial risks that pharmaceutical companies take when they pour billions of dollars into research that may — or may not — produce positive results. At the same time, insurers have a financial incentive to keep encouraging the use of older, less costly antibiotics.
Thankfully, a growing number of federal legislators are working with the medical community to make this pending health emergency a priority. The PASTEUR Act — for Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance Act — would create market incentives for the development of life-saving antimicrobial drugs, including innovative antibiotics and antiviral and antifungal drugs that physicians need to treat patients.
Under the PASTEUR Act’s subscription model, payers would no longer encourage the use of common antibiotics. This will help reduce the chance for superbugs to strengthen their resistance to these important but often overprescribed treatments. Instead, hospitals or governments would pay a fee for as much — or as little — as needed.
Antimicrobial resistance threatens to impact a wide range of health care needs, but these simple steps will help save lives down the road. The PASTEUR Act should be a no-brainer for legislators, to save lives in the future while encouraging innovation today.
All Floridians should urge members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation to start getting our nation ready for the next superbug by supporting the PASTEUR Act this year.
Nancy K. Bryan is president and CEO of BioFlorida, the voice of Florida’s life sciences industry, representing 8,600 establishments and research organizations in BioPharma, MedTech, Digital Health and Health Systems that collectively employ nearly 107,000 Floridians.