On July 21, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future hosted a webinar featuring Prof. Muhammad H. Zaman, where he discussed his newest book, Biography of Resistance: The Epic Battle Between People and Pathogens. The book explores the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases and what we must do to address this growing global health crisis.
In his talk, Prof. Zaman discussed how the history of antibiotic resistance can inform our response to both COVID-19 and future pandemics. He explained that, during the 1918 pandemic, most of the fatalities were actually attributable to bacterial pneumonia.
“Think of it as a one-two punch,” Prof. Zaman said. “The virus really weakens the immune system and the knockout punch comes from the bacteria.”
He described data from China, Italy, and the U.S. showing that bacterial infections are a serious threat to people with COVID-19. Unlike in 1918, antibiotics are available to combat those infections, but the bacteria is growing increasingly resistant to drugs. In discussing the history of antibiotic discovery, he explained that resistance is a natural process that has been acknowledged within the scientific community for decades.
“The reality is that resistance is a natural process. Sooner or later, even with the best antibiotics, you will develop resistance,” he said.
Still, there are steps we can and must take to address this crisis. He described poor regulation of human-animal interactions as a serious problem. He also explained that the pipeline of new antibiotics is essentially non-existent, in large part due to distortions in the pharmaceutical industry’s economic models. He stressed that, in addition to gaining a better understanding of the science, we must rethink the economic, policy, and behavioral aspects of antibiotic resistance.
Following the talk, Pardee School of Global Studies Dean Adil Najam hosted a conversation and took questions from the audience watching live on the Pardee Center’s YouTube channel.
The book, published by HarperCollins, is available for purchase now.