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Experts back House bill to develop new drugs to combat superbugs

Updated: June 17, 2014 2:45PM

One of five infectious disease experts viewed the nation’s “superbug” problem through an ominous local perspective on Thursday.

“We’re fortunate to watch our Chicago Blackhawks win another playoff series, and they did that in front of 23,000 fans,” said Dr. Marc H. Scheetz, an infectious diseases pharmacist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Imagine all of those fans dying annually from an antibiotics-resistant infection.”

Scheetz was among five experts urging immediate action at a discussion organized by U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Danny Davis, D-Ill. In March, Roskam and Davis introduced the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistant Microorganisms Act, which aims to pave the way for companies to develop new antibiotics to treat the superbugs. The two congressmen, who come from different sides of the political spectrum, teamed up on the issue after a superbug called CRE — carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae — hit home last year, infecting 38 patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. A similar measure was introduced in the U.S. Senate.

In 2013, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control report found that 2 million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year, and the pathogens cause 23,000 deaths annually. That same study called the problem a “nightmare bacteria” that poses a “catastrophic threat” to people in every country in the world.

“These are very catchy: MRSA. VRE, CRE, ESBL. You’ve likely heard of them, and that’s very unfortunate,” Scheetz said at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital panel discussion in Chicago. “It’s unfortunate because we should only be talking about these at medical conferences.”

The act introduced by Roskam and Davis would provide higher reimbursements to hospitals that use new drugs to combat superbugs with the hope that pharmaceutical companies would be persuaded to create new drugs. In 1990, there were 20 pharmaceutical companies with large antibiotic research and development programs. Today, only three large companies and a handful of small companies are continuing the research, according to Roskam’s office. The act also would require hospitals to report drug-resistant bacterial infections and their treatment to the CDC.

Dr. Sarah Sutton, a veteran infection disease physician and medical director at Northwestern, said the problem starts with doctors who are overeager to prescribe antibiotics for simple ailments, such as ear infections. The CDC report notes that up to 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not effective as prescribed.

“Our country has a huge problem with antibiotics. We all have a part to play,” Sutton said. “The problem is every time you take an antibiotic, the bacteria that’s inside your body and on your skin and on the surface of your skin, inside your body, it changes. And the survivors after the antibiotic dose, many of them are going to be resistant. Already we have the setup of the potential of resistance.”


Twitter: @TinaSfon

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