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Antibiotic development is inadequate to meet global resistance threat, WHO warns

Published on 20/09/17 at 09:32am

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report indicating that worldwide development of new antibiotics is not keeping pace with the rising prevalence of antimicrobial resistance, with the risk that we may face an inability to meet growing demand.

The report was constructed by a team of specialists within the antimicrobial resistance of pathogens, warning that it is expected that just 10 new antibiotics will reach market in the next five years, far below the target necessitated by the growing threat. Compounding this issue is the fact that the majority of this number are not true innovative candidates, instead being modified versions of existing drugs, meaning they are likely to fail where their predecessors have failed.

In total, there are 51 new antibiotics in development, some of which are combination therapies, with some already being tested in clinical trials. This number includes 11 biologic medicines which WHO experts believe could provide a treatment solution for serious bacterial infection.

The concern arises that these candidates do not address the key issue of multidrug and extensively drug-resistant Gram-negative pathogens, which are typically referred to as ‘superbugs’ because of their ability to resist more than one kind of antibiotic, meaning that new approaches to fight them effectively.

Of these priority pathogens which pose the greatest health threat, WHO has highlighted deadly superbugs such as carbapenem-resistant versions of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing enterobacteriaceae, in addition to staphylococcus aureus, salmonella, neisseria gonorrhoea, shigella.

Only 12 of the 51 new antibiotics in development are active against these high-priority pathogens, with only two able to kill more than one of them.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardise progress in modern medicine,” remarked Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, adding that there is an “urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

Matt Fellows

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