Brianna Strand, who experienced recurring antibiotic-resistant infections, was in Washington last March to advocate for programs critical to the fight against superbugs. She died in May of complications associated with a resistant infection.
In 1992, when Brianna Strand was 3 years old, she was featured in a TIME magazine article about new scientific breakthroughs that doctors hoped might one day cure her cystic fibrosis. Though Brianna’s life was never easy, the idea of a cure buoyed her as she fought her disease. She learned how to ride horses, went to college, became a veterinary technician, got married. Cystic fibrosis didn’t take her life. But an antibiotic-resistant strain of common bacteria did, overcoming her weakened lungs. She was 28 years old.
Brianna’s story demonstrates the complex danger the world faces as antibiotic resistance continues to spread across the globe. The more antibiotics are used, the faster bacteria evolve to resist them, so that common bacteria—such as those causing strep throat and urinary tract infections—are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. In fact, more than 60 percent of infectious disease doctors report seeing patients with superbugs—infections that, like Brianna’s, would not respond to any available antibiotics.
And antibiotics do far more than simply cure infections; they safeguard almost every aspect of modern medicine. Without effective antibiotics, procedures we take for granted today—including chemotherapy, joint replacement surgery, kidney dialysis, organ transplants, and many more—would be too risky to undertake. Antibiotics are also essential to our national security: In the event of a bioterror attack or outbreak of a dangerous resistant pathogen, antibiotics would be essential for survival.
Yet although the world desperately needs new drugs to meet this challenge, there are far too few new antibiotics in development to do so.
Brianna’s mother and brother will travel to Capitol Hill to share her story at a March 1 briefing, along with other citizen advocates whose lives have been affected by antibiotic resistance.They will join a slate of administration officials who are tasked with addressing the issue across federal agencies, including experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and others charged with addressing advanced biomedical research and the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The officials will share the latest information on the evolving threat, provide updates on innovative initiatives being implemented across the federal government to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and discuss the challenges that still lie ahead.
Members of Congress and their staffs will hear about the urgent need to bring together the work of the government, the private sector, academia, and industry to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria—and to find the new drugs so crucial to public health and the future of medicine. The Pew Charitable Trusts is cosponsoring the briefing with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and will discuss the Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge, an effort to help scientists around the world share data and insights, and work together to overcome a decades-long drought in antibiotic innovation.
While there has been notable progress in recent years in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, much work remains to be done: Our country’s level of preparedness must match the magnitude of the threat posed by these superbugs. We look forward to hosting this critically important conversation and hope that it not only further strengthens the bipartisan support for tackling this issue but also inspires new action to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s too late to save Brianna Strand, but millions of people like her who rely on antibiotics are depending on it.
Allan Coukell directs health programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts.
This piece originally ran in The Hill on Feb. 27, 2018.