Ironically infectious diseases are better at waging war with human host resistance than humans have proven at wiping them out. Urbanization and near instantaneous population mobility are turning emerging pathogens like Ebola and ubiquitous pediatric enterovirus strains like EV-D68 into imminent global threats. And then there are the infectious disease killers — like flu — that many people think of as benign, despite CDC reports that 200,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 to 49,000 deaths each year in the U.S. stem from influenza.
Not that this is new news. Civilizations have been shaped over the millennia by waves of deadly pandemics caused by the black plague (Yersinia pestis), smallpox and influenza, as well as the crippling of polio and morbidity of malaria and dengue fevers. We just aren’t old enough to remember them.
The path to better outcomes in the war against infectious diseases requires focus on four things: investment, economics, collaboration, and risk management.
- Investment — Achieve a reliable level of public support: for basic research; for the current generation of young scientists who invent and design the discovery platforms that precede product development; and for public health infrastructure, as Research!America advocates.
- Economics — Develop sustainability principles in public policy, including incentives and value pricing for the field so the product engine can take off.
- Collaboration — Develop the triple helix environment of collaboration between industry, academia and government labs, leaving ROI, mission and public incentives intact and leveraging each other’s skills and risk capital.
- Risk Management — Insist on a de-politicized and sound regulatory process that effectively manages risk without strangling innovation (i.e., let them do their jobs).
While 5,000+ people in West Africa have died thus far from Ebola, that number pales in comparison to the 50 million deaths that occurred during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic — and we have no assurance that such a superbug won’t reappear. We must get serious about vanquishing infectious diseases, and that means doing things differently. Humanity’s future depends on it. Join me.