A conversation with Sepsis Alliance President and CEO Thomas Heymann as World AMR Awareness Week kicks off

World AMR Awareness Week (WAAW), which is November 18-23, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and highlight potential solutions to the emergence of drug-resistant infections.

Michael Ybarra, M.D.November 21, 2023

A conversation with Sepsis Alliance President and CEO Thomas Heymann as World AMR Awareness Week kicks off.

World AMR Awareness Week (WAAW), which is November 18-23, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and highlight potential solutions to the emergence of drug-resistant infections. The World Health Organization has called AMR one of the biggest threats to global health today. That’s because harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites naturally — over time — develop the ability to survive against the drugs designed to kill them. And the pipeline for developing new antimicrobials is drying up.

AMR already accounts for nearly five million deaths globally each year, and it’s expected that drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050. One of the most severe complications from AMR is sepsis — the body’s overwhelming response to infection. 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sepsis Alliance President and CEO Thomas Heymann to discuss new findings on the growing threat of AMR — and what can be done to combat this crisis. 

It’s clear that AMR is a global health threat, and Sepsis Alliance has been vocal on the importance of taking immediate action to stop this crisis in its tracks. Can you share how AMR is connected to sepsis and what impacts it could have on patients going forward?

To start, sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, amputations and death. In the United States, 1.7 million people are affected by sepsis and 350,000 U.S. adults die from sepsis each year.

Sepsis is one of the biggest health risks related to AMR — the two are closely linked. With a diminishing supply of effective antimicrobials, it is increasingly likely that even commonplace infections will progress out of control into life-threatening sepsis.  As the AMR crisis worsens, sepsis cases also become more difficult to treat, leading to an increased likelihood of poor patient outcomes.

Sepsis Alliance recently released new research highlighting health care leaders’ perspectives on antimicrobial resistance. What does this research say about where we are in the fight against AMR?  

The research shows that health care executives see the impact of AMR, and that this is severe enough that it could be the cause of another pandemic. 90% of health care C-suite executives see AMR as threatening to society and 85% are concerned that the problem may increase the potential of another pandemic.

There are a few ways to fight AMR, and we asked health care leaders their thoughts on next steps in the survey. The importance of education on safe antibiotic use for clinicians and the public was a big takeaway. In a 2021 survey conducted by Sepsis Alliance, we found 49% of U.S. adults hadn’t heard of AMR, and most infectious disease physicians and pharmacists believe inappropriate antibiotic use is one of the top contributing factors of AMR.

While drug-resistant superbugs have evolved, our antimicrobials have not. We are at a pivotal point in the fight against AMR — we can’t afford to wait to develop new medicines to combat superbugs. Developing a new antibiotic can take as long as 10 to 15 years and cost more than a billion dollars. And we may not have 10 to 15 years to wait.

With global health organizations, physicians, pharmacists, hospital executives, patient groups and others sounding the alarm on AMR, what more can be done? Can you speak to potential legislative solutions such as the PASTEUR Act?

Educational resources for the public and health care professionals are a first step toward addressing the AMR crisis. We need to support efforts to make people aware of the dangers of not taking antimicrobials as intended — taking them too often, unnecessarily, or not finishing a course of medicine.

Unfortunately, education is not enough. Because of the urgency of the problem, we need new drugs introduced to market to slow and stop the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. More than 3 million Americans contract a drug-resistant infection each year, and those infections result in nearly 50,000 deaths.

Federal legislation such as the PASTEUR Act will be a necessary component of our multi-pronged solution to the AMR crisis. By fixing the broken antimicrobial pipeline, incentivizing the introduction of novel drugs to the market, and improving appropriate use across the health care system, PASTEUR will help ensure that we can continue to effectively treat infections — and keep them from progressing out of control into life-threatening sepsis.

90% of health care leaders surveyed said that government has a role to play in managing AMR, but 73% were unsure of what legislation could help. We need to raise awareness of legislative solutions like the PASTUER Act and other pending legislation like Lulu’s Law, which helps us learn more about sepsis and infectious bugs that cause it.

Learn more about the growing threat of AMR.

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