Fighting Antibiotic Resistance

By: Rachel Sherman, M.D., and Edward Cox, M.D.

This week is the annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, a national campaign sponsored by FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations, to highlight how important it is to use antibiotics wisely.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats. Antibiotics are the most important tools we have to combat life-threatening bacterial diseases, but overuse of these drugs has led to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.”

Key to combating antibiotic resistance is antibiotic stewardship, making sure we use the drugs appropriately—and only when needed—to help preserve their effectiveness in fighting bacterial infections. Doctors and other health care professionals should make sure that the antibiotic and dose they prescribe will be effective in treating the infection. And patients must be sure to take an antibiotic exactly as instructed by their prescriber and complete the entire course of treatment, even if they start feeling better. The way we use antibiotics today has a direct impact on how effective they will be in the future.

But as we take care to use existing antibiotics wisely, we realize that we will always need new antibiotics.  Bacteria will continue to evolve and develop resistance to the drugs we have now. Unfortunately, research and development for new antibiotics has been in decline in recent decades, and the number of new antibiotics has been falling steadily since the 1980s.

To address this decline, FDA recently established a new internal task force to help support the development of new antibiotics. The Antibacterial Drug Development Task Force is a multi-disciplinary group of FDA scientists and clinicians working with experts from all over the country to establish new ways of developing safe and effective new antibiotics.

We’ve already held several meetings to discuss the challenges to creating new antibiotics and explore possible solutions.  And although still in the early stages of meeting the challenges, as co-chairs of the task force, we are encouraged by the frank and open discussions we are having with experts from academia, industry, professional societies, patient advocates and our fellow government colleagues.

It will take time before new antibiotics are available to treat some currently resistant infections. But if we act now and work together, we can improve antibiotic use and preserve the effectiveness of these important medicines.

Rachel Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., is Associate Director for Medical Policy in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Edward Cox, M.D., M.P.H., is Director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.