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Antimicrobial resistance – an emerging public health crisis

Q&A with Dr. Jenelle Krishnamoorthy on the urgent need to work together to address the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

May 26, 2021

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve also been battling a second serious global health crisis: antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobials are medicines used to treat all sorts of infections like strep throat and ear infections. After being exposed to antimicrobials, some bacteria survive and can become resistant to these medicines – this is called antimicrobial resistance, or AMR.

Today we’re finding bacteria are developing resistance at a faster rate than we’re developing new antimicrobials.

In this Q&A, Dr. Jenelle Krishnamoorthy, interim vice president, Global Public Policy, discusses the critical action needed to slow AMR and the challenges ahead.

Q: Why are you passionate about finding a solution to AMR?

Without effective antimicrobials, there could be serious implications like patients being told their cancer chemotherapy treatments or hip replacement surgeries are too risky because of the chance of developing an untreatable infection.

When I was health policy staff director of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for the Chairman, I remember infectious disease doctors from Johns Hopkins University telling the committee about cases year after year of drug-resistant forms of pneumonia. The doctors said all they could do was hope and pray while patients were in the intensive care unit on ventilators. There were no effective antibiotics to use. I’d been aware of the issue before, but this was really an alarm bell for me. Pneumonia was not a new disease, and these doctors had access to some of the best resources. How could this happen?

A hand with a medical glove is holding a agar plate with a culture of a pathogenic bacteria
Researcher in the lab

Q: Why don’t we have enough treatments for infections caused by resistant pathogens?

Antimicrobials are not being developed at a pace that can keep up with resistance – so, to stay ahead, we need to slow down the development of resistance and speed up the development of new treatments. Unfortunately, each year there are fewer large pharmaceutical companies supporting research in this area.

In short, it’s an economic problem. It’s very expensive to invest in the research to find new treatments. However, once these new treatments are available, they are used sparingly to prevent bacteria from developing resistance. This is critical to slow AMR and improve public health, but it doesn’t support the level of investment needed to develop new antibiotics as companies are reimbursed by the quantity of the treatment that is used and prescribed by hospitals and doctors. Given this situation, many other companies have stopped developing antimicrobials or gone out of business completely.

Q: How can we make sure we have the treatments people need?

To ensure that everyone – adults, kids, grandparents and beyond – get the antibiotics they need, we need governments to prioritize the development of antibiotics. This should be done by investing early in company research, changing the way these treatments are reimbursed and used, and better rewarding companies that successfully bring new antimicrobials to market. Together, this could help reinvigorate investments in antibiotic development.

As a parent, I don’t want to worry that my kid will die from a scratch on his leg. Today, we know we can prevent and treat this kind of infection. But every day, we’re getting closer to a reality where we can’t.

We need action from our government officials before it is too late. The time to act is now.