Getting to Know the International Network for AMR Social Science

A Q&A with Professor Kevin Outterson

The risk from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is profound, and the global community is unprepared to respond. In this climate, research centers across the world are coming together to find a way out of this crisis – not only by developing new antibiotics, but also by understanding the human, social, and political structures essential to prevent, diagnose, and treat drug-resistant infections.

Photo of Kevin Outterson
Pictured: Professor Kevin Outterson

As part of this effort, IHSIP’s Social Innovation on Drug Resistance (SIDR) program joined forces with several like-minded academic centers across the globe as founding members of the International Network for AMR Social Science (INAMRSS).

N. Neal Pike Scholar in Health and Disability Law, Executive Director of CARB-X, and Social Innovation on Drug Resistance Program Director Kevin Outterson joins us today to discuss.

Q: Thank you so much for joining us, Kevin. To start off, why INAMRSS? What sets it apart from other global collaborations fighting drug-resistant infections?

A: Most AMR research funding flows to bench science and medicine. Many, like my work with CARB-X, develop new antibiotics. That’s important, but we also need groups that focus on how social, political, and economic factors help or hurt efforts to fight drug resistance. That’s what the SIDR program does here at BU. But for any individual organization’s work to make a difference, we need to collaborate with our global colleagues. INAMRSS is focused on the human side of the AMR problem.

Q: You mentioned many factors aside from antibiotics that impact drug resistance. Wouldn’t new antibiotics be enough?

A: Developing new antibiotics is key to combating drug resistance. However, we’ll never achieve that if the companies researching them go out of business, highlighting the importance of economics and intellectual property law. Even when succeed with a new antibiotic, we need cooperation from heads of state all the way down to individual patients to ensure these antibiotics remain effective. That means building economic systems that support antibiotics R&D, enacting policies that promote antibiotic stewardship, and educating and engaging patients to use their treatments in accordance with antibiotic stewardship guidelines. In all of this, we have much to learn from psychology, communications, anthropology, political science, global health, history, economics, law, and many other social science disciplines.

Q: Pivoting back to INAMRSS, why is a network the way to work on these other factors in AMR?
A: Drug-resistant infections have been accelerated by human activity. Much like climate change, this is a result of human action at global scale. Antibiotic solutions will come from chemistry, biology and engineering, but since human behavior is one of the core problems, then we need the social sciences deployed as part of the solution. Just like climate change, no single country can solve the global problem in isolation. INAMRSS is a collaborative network of other research centers which share this vision.

Q: What is INAMRSS focusing on now to achieve this goal?

A: Right now, we are planning our second major conference, to be held at the University of Copenhagen in June. Last fall, our first conference was hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge and a roundtable on using treaties to address AMR was held at Oxford. We are making the case for a seat at the AMR table for social sciences, giving powerful examples of how our work can move solutions forward. We are also an official stakeholder in the G20 Global AMR R&D Hub, the coordinating hub for the 20 richest nations on the planet on this issue.

Q:  You also direct the BU CARB-X program. How come they aren’t also a member of the network?
A: CARB-X supports many projects in the bench sciences, and retains that focus. The SIDR program can be thought of as the social science side of my research work. I want to see that “last mile” solution all the way to the patient. Social science solutions rooted in economics, law, global public health, communications, psychology, anthropology, political science, history, and many other disciplines are required.  Indeed, drug-resistant infections is the sort of problem that can only be solved by interdisciplinary teams working across the University. SIDR offers exactly that kind of interdisciplinary, social science research. It’s the best fit for representing BU at INAMRSS.

Q: Thank you so much for discussing INAMRSS with us today! Here’s one final question – what’s next for INAMRSS, and what do you hope it will become?

A: Humans created AMR, so any solution must account for the incredible complexity of human society.  It seems so obvious that solutions cannot come solely from the bench sciences.  This vision needs to be shared by research funders so that we get solutions that work in the real, messy world filled with people.

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