Superbugs: the larger threat lurking behind COVID-19

March 24, 2020
We know you’ve heard it many times by now, but in case you need a reminder: even young people are being hospitalized with COVID-19. So, just stay inside, cook some fresh, healthy vegetables, and keep on Zooming. Today, we’re taking a look at another, equally urgent…

We know you’ve heard it many times by now, but in case you need a reminder: even young people are being hospitalized with COVID-19. So, just stay inside, cook some fresh, healthy vegetables, and keep on Zooming.

Today, we’re taking a look at another, equally urgent health threat—superbugs—as well as how ethanol plants are helping to meet the demand for hand sanitizer, in around 780 words, just under 4 minutes.

Superbugs: the larger threat lurking behind COVID-19

Remember AMR? Antibiotic resistance? Superbugs? Sure, we have a new, urgent health threat taking up most of our time and energy, but AMR, or whatever you prefer to call it, is still a major concern—and it’s complicating COVID-19 treatment, writes Merck’s Dr. Julie Gerberding in STAT.

COVID-19 is a priority—but antibiotic resistance “is already killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world and that will complicate the care of many COVID-19 patients,” writes Dr. Gerberding, Chief Patient Officer and EVP at BIO member Merck, who was head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2002-2009.

We need to give superbugs the same kind of attention we give new diseases like the coronavirus. “In the U.S. alone, we see 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections each year and more than 35,000 deaths, though experts fear that the real number is much higher.” 

Superbugs are a risk for everyone, but especially older, sick, and vulnerable patients—the same patients who face the greatest risk of COVID-19 complications and death. 

1 in 7. That’s the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who have “acquired a dangerous secondary bacterial infection, and 50% of patients who have died had such infections.”

Yes, we need to focus on COVID-19 treatments and cures—but we also need to continue researching and developing new antibiotics, by incentivizing biopharmas to make them and incentivizing hospitals to use newer, more effective treatments against superbugs.

The bottom line: “As we come together to fight today’s COVID-19 crisis, we must also look ahead to the next one. We cannot be short-sighted, and we cannot be complacent, especially about antibiotic resistance. We must put measures in place to ensure that we have the antibiotics we need — today and in the future,” she concludes.

More background:


More Health Care News: 

Nature Biotechnology: Fast, portable tests come online to curb coronavirus pandemic
“Testing kits delivered by courier and digital tools combine to battle the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

Reuters: Gilead's potential coronavirus treatment gets FDA's orphan drug label
“The orphan drug status provides a seven-year market exclusivity period, as well as tax and other incentives for drug companies developing treatments for rare diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people.” 

STAT: When might experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 be ready? A forecast
“Normally, the process to develop new medicines can take a decade or more. And many experimental medicines fail. When it comes to infectious disease treatments, data from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization put the success rate of new medicines just starting clinical testing at 1 in 5.”


From husk to hand sanitizer

Our world is at war with the coronavirus, and just as manufacturers have done during wartime in the past, they’re retooling to produce items we need to get through this difficult time. For example, America’s ethanol plants have started to make hand sanitizer, reports E&E News—another way biotech is helping in the coronavirus fight in more ways than one. 

ICYMI: Hand sanitizer is in high demand right now. 

But American biotech is helping to meet that demand. America’s corn refiners and ethanol plants are “producing trainloads of industrial alcohol on a daily basis,” said the Corn Refiners Association, and using this alcohol to make “hand sanitizers or other health-related sanitizing products.”

It’s a win for everyone. Health care professionals, supermarket employees, and consumers can get the sanitizers they need, while ethanol producers can keep paying their employees and contributing to the economy, even though demand for transportation fuel is down. 

But we shouldn’t forget about biofuels. As we’ve reported, biofuels can play an important role in reducing air pollution, and thereby reduce risk of respiratory conditions, which can increase the risk of COVID-19 complications and death. This is why we’ll continue to push for low-carbon fuel initiatives nationwide as a solution for the economy, climate change, and public health.


More Agriculture & Environment News:

Morning Consult: Letter from House Democrats urges aid for renewables in coronavirus stimulus
“[T]he group asks leadership ‘to shore up clean energy businesses and workers impacted’ by the coronavirus, and suggests several forms that support could take. Among the measures floated are tax credit extensions, the removal of the current tax credit phaseout schedule, direct payments or refunds and ‘extensions of safe harbor continuity.’”

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Tuesday: He’ll participate in a virtual town hall live on Fox News at 12:30pm ET. There’s no Coronavirus Task Force briefing on the schedule today (yet). 

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The Senate was up late working to finalize the third coronavirus stimulus package. While technically in recess, the House is also working on competing bills.

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