Source: Reuters, 28 February 2017
New antibiotics must be developed urgently to fight a dozen
dangerous families of bacteria, the World Health Organization said
on Monday, describing these "priority pathogens" as the greatest
threats to human health.
Many of these bacteria have already evolved into deadly
superbugs that are resistant to many antibiotics, the United
National health agency said.
The bugs "have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist
treatment" and can also pass on genetic material that allows other
bacteria to become drug-resistant, it added.
The WHO's assistant director-general for health systems and
innovation, Marie-Paule Kieny, said it was up to governments to put
in place policies to boost investment in research and development
(R&D) if new drugs are to be found in time.
"Just when resistance to antibiotics is reaching alarming
proportions, the pipeline is practically dry," she told reporters
in a telephone briefing.
"If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we
most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."
In recent decades, drug-resistant bacteria, such as
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Clostridium difficile, have become
a global health threat. Superbug strains of infections such as
tuberculosis and gonorrhea are already untreatable.
The WHO has previously warned that many antibiotics could become
redundant this century, leaving patients exposed to deadly
infections and threatening the future of medicine.
The "priority pathogens" list has three rankings - critical,
high and medium - according to how urgently new antibiotics are
The critical group includes multidrug-resistant bacteria that
pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and other
care facilities. These include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and
various Enterobacteriaceae that can cause often deadly infections
such as pneumonia and septicemia.
"These bacteria are responsible for severe infections and high
mortality rates," Kieny said. "While these bacteria are not
widespread and do not generally effect healthy people, the burden
for patients is now alarming and new effective therapies are
The second and third tiers contain other increasingly
drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as
gonorrhea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.
The WHO said the list is intended to spur governments to put in
place policies that incentivise basic and advanced R&D.
Tim Jinks, head of drug resistant infections at the Wellcome
Trust global health charity, said that within a generation there
could be up to 10 million deaths a year from drug resistant
infections without new antibiotics. He said the list would be an
important tool to steer research.
"Without new medicines to treat deadly infection, lifesaving
treatments like chemotherapy and organ transplant, and routine
operations like caesareans and hip replacements will be potentially
fatal," Jinks said.