Diagnostic Tests Can Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistance and Save Lives — If We Just Use Them

By Andrew Fish, Executive Director of AdvaMedDx

Antibiotic sensitivity test of Serratia marcescens, a gram-negative bacterium

As any parent has experienced when their child is sick, it may seem like the right course of action to visit the pediatrician and request an antibiotic for what ails them. But the truth is they may not always need an antibiotic, and their misuse is fueling one of the world’s most alarming health crises: The rise of antibiotic-resistant organisms, or so-called ‘superbugs’.

Antibiotics are one of the world’s greatest advances in health care, providing effective, life-saving treatments for infections that throughout human history have been often fatal or debilitating, including strep throat, bacterial meningitis, ear infections, tuberculosis, whooping cough, and pneumonia. It turns out, however, that the widespread, and sometimes indiscriminate, use of antibiotics is driving the prevalence and spread of bacteria that are resistant to many or all of the antibiotics currently available.

Infectious bacteria that are impervious to antibiotics are increasingly a global threat — so much so that public health authorities are taking notice. Based on current trends, antibiotic resistance is projected to cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050, accompanied by $100 trillion in lost global economic productivity over that period.

A recently published study in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society illustrates this alarming trend. Between 2007 to 2015, there was more than a seven-fold increase in the percentage of hospitalized children whose bacterial infection was resistant to multiple types of antibiotic drugs.

To address decreasing treatment options and encourage research and development of new antibiotics, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently came out with a first-of-its-kind list of priority pathogens that pose the greatest threat to human health, identifying 12 families of bacteria. While this priority attention and the development of new antibiotics are critical elements in the fight against this growing epidemic, they are only part of the equation.

Diagnostic tests play a critical role in fighting antibiotic resistance, but are underappreciated and underutilized. These tests support patient treatment and public health by identifying, monitoring, tracking and preventing antibiotic resistance. Diagnostics can often identify the organism causing infections and provide insights into the host’s immune response, thereby helping providers determine which infections do and don’t need antimicrobial treatment — and which antibiotics will be most effective against a particular organism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed in U.S. are either unnecessary or inappropriate and could be reduced by better use of existing diagnostic tests, especially where they’re often overused — in outpatient and point-of-care settings. The benefits are clear that these tests can help reduce drug misuse, decrease health care costs, revitalize drugs that have been otherwise abandoned and, ultimately, save lives.

Yet, diagnostic tests are a lesser known or used tool for medical professionals. Despite the value of diagnostic tests, there are various reasons why they are underutilized:

· Access to tests vary widely around the world and infections are often treated empirically.

· Antimicrobial drugs are prescribed before the source of the infection has been identified and treatments aren’t always adjusted afterward.

· Diagnostics tests aren’t consistently used to confirm or modify treatments.

· Certain health care systems value the simple practice of prescribing antibiotics over using these tests, which may seem expensive and burdensome.

For these reasons, AdvaMedDx has launched an initiative to optimize the use of diagnostic tests to address antibiotic resistance and educate key stakeholders. This past January, AdvaMedDx unveiled a commitment at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, signed by 33 organizations, that serves as a framework for collaborative action. Groups that have signed on agree to build the economic case for diagnostics; establish public-private partnerships to increase systems and access to tests; ensure effective use of the tests globally; and advocate for R&D investments and simplified processes and policies to encourage development of innovative tests.

We hope this effort will help to reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance and improve the quality of care for affected patients around the world. No child should suffer needlessly when there are solutions within reach — diagnostics tests are an essential part of the world’s arsenal in this fight and must be fully utilized.

Operating as a division of AdvaMed, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, AdvaMedDx is the only advocacy organization dedicated exclusively to issues facing diagnostic manufacturers in the United States and abroad.