WHO warns of lack of new antibiotics under development

The report shows very few treatment options for antibiotic-resistant infections found to pose the greatest threat to health, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.
By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 20, 2017 at 2:03 PM
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Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise, and the World Health Organization issued a warning Wednesday of the lack of new antibiotics under development while the threat of antimicrobial resistance grows.

Although the superbugs have not spread widely in the United States, two patients last year were infected by a bacteria that was resistant to colisitin, an antibiotic of last resort, and a Nevada woman in her 70s died after returning from a trip to India with a superbug resistant to all antibiotics.

"Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said in a press release. "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."

The new WHO report found most of the antibiotics currently being developed are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics, calling them short-term solutions with few potential treatment options for antibiotic-resistant infections seen as posing the greatest threat.

The organization identified 12 classes of priority pathogens that are increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics, along with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which kills 250,000 people each year on its own.

The WHO report identified 51 new antibiotics and biologicals in clinical development for priority antibiotic-resistant diseases. But the organization says just eight are seen as innovative treatments that will benefit the existing antibiotic treatment arsenal.

"Pharmaceutical companies and researchers must urgently focus on new antibiotics against certain types of extremely serious infections that can kill patients in a matter of days because we have no line of defense," said Dr. Suzanne Hill, director of the Department of Essential Medicines at WHO.

As a result, the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership was set up by WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative with several countries pledging more than $67.2 million for this work.

"Research for tuberculosis is seriously underfunded, with only two new antibiotics for treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis having reached the market in over 70 years," Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Program, said. "If we are to end tuberculosis, more than US $800 million per year is urgently needed to fund research for new anti-tuberculosis medicines."

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