The steady and alarming rise in antibiotic resistance poses one of the greatest challenges to public health and modern medicine. The U.S. CDC estimates that drug-resistant bacteria sicken more than 2 million people annually, causing 23,000 deaths and resulting in $20 billion in excess health-care costs and an additional $35 billion in lost productivity. The antibiotic resistance crisis is particularly devastating in hospitals and long-term care facilities, where such infections strike the most vulnerable patients with weak immune systems or chronic diseases.
Dr. Victor Nizet, a physician-scientist and member of the UC San Diego faculty for almost 20 years, explains that the roots of our current dilemma are multifactorial. Overzealous use of antibiotics in both clinical and agricultural settings, the departure of major pharmaceutical companies from antibiotic development (viewed as unprofitable), and simple Darwinian evolution of microbes exposed to life-or-death selective pressures each contribute profoundly. Can we, through public awareness, changes in medical practice, and scientific innovation, lift ourselves out of the hole that we have dug?
In the face of the exploding resistance crisis, Dr. Nizet and colleagues have turned their attention to discovering innovative future solutions that go “beyond antibiotics” to help patients with serious infections. These include strategies to strip the bacteria of their virulence factors and toxins to render them harmless, approaches to boost the natural antibacterial killing activity of our own white blood cells, and studies to understand how antibiotics and other existing drugs may work to cure infection in partnership with our immune system – not just how they work in a test tube. Dr. Nizet is spearheading a new initiative involving nearly 50 UCSD faculty named the “Collaborative to Halt Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes” or CHARM, which will make its debut later this year.