Combating Antibiotic Resistance and Beating Superbugs

Filmmaker Bill Mudge has released his new documentary, Beating Superbugs: Can We Win? It looks at emerging technologies designed to develop new therapies to combat antibiotic resistance (ABR).

Psychiatrist Tom Patterson was on vacation with his wife, Stephanie Strahdee, who is an epidemiologist, in Egypt when he became violently ill. He became delirious and it was so dire, she called the travel insurance company who commissioned a lear jet to fly them to Franfurt, Germany to another hospital a few days later.

Patterson went into a coma and was placed on a ventilator. He experienced vivid hallucinations of being in the desert. At his worst stage, his body was sucking calcium from his bones, muscle was being eaten to generate energy in order for him to survive, and he was on the verge of kidney failure.

When at the hospital in Germany they did an endoscopy and realized he had an abscess in his abdomen, a pseudo cyst the size of a football that was infected with Acinetobacter baumannii.

Initially, 3 antibiotics were administered, but after 2 weeks, none of them worked. Filmmaker Bill Mudge told Patterson’s story along with others dealing with acute, severe health crises in his documentary, Beating Superbugs: Can We Win? The film can be seen here.

He was inspired to make the film after reading about people who were affected by antimicrobial resistance and the seemingly lack of solutions. He was tired of the same narrative with no hope attached to treatment. He wanted to remove the fear aspect of the issue by stating what the problem is and showing potential solutions were being developed.

“My question was can I focus enough attention in on this topic as a filmmaker and later go on beyond sheer awareness and point to some kind of solutions?” Mudge said. “What I have tried to do in “Beating Superbugs: Can We Win? is remind people of the problem—that is really quite diverse and complicated—but it is a solvable problem.” 

Mudge had a former career as a software designer and consultant where the grind of traveling got him thinking about transitioning away from the industry. He had always been appreciative of the visual arts and was an avid photographer before deciding to go to film school.

The film focuses on antibiotic resistance (ABR). One expert interviewed for the film quoted a United Nations report that said by 2050, 10 million people globally could be dying annually from it. The cost to the global economy would be $100 trillion.

He introduces the audience to the challenges of drug development including the limited number of new antibiotics through the years and the lack of financial incentives.

Typically it takes 15 years from development to approval for antibiotics, but it only takes 2 years to develop bacterial resistance to new antibiotics. A recent report from the Pew Trusts showed there were only 43 new antibiotics in development.

The film looks at potential solutions to address antibiotic resistance. For example, they identify the Isolation-chip, a method of culturing bacteria. In another example, using a computer model found a new potent antibiotic which can kill 35 kinds of bacteria including 3 superbugs in animal studies.

The film covers the food chain and the dangers of using antibiotics in livestock. There is a move, albeit a slow moving one, to get livestock suppliers to reduce and stop using these drugs in the animals.

The documentary’s audience is intended for both medical professionals and the general public. Mudge takes viewers on an in-depth view of this major health problem and examines not only the medical science aspects to it but also looks at the political and financial involvement needed to address the issue. The film intertwines Patterson’s health journey and the various treatments he is prescribed for treatment.

Contagion recently interviewed Mudge to learn more about his film, including the biggest messages he wants to communicate to viewers in making them aware of the promising treatments and research going on to address this critical health care issue.