December 18, 2017

WHO Publishes List of Bacteria That Need New Antibiotics

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health and which urgently need new types of antibiotics. These bacteria are resistant to some last-resort antibiotics.

Petri Dish

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill 23,000 Americans every year. And antibiotic resistant bacteria are present in every country on earth.

The list highlights gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These pathogens are constantly evolving to resist new drugs, and they can pass genetic material to other bacteria so they can become drug resistant too.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation said in a statement, “This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs. Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

The list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need to new drugs: Critical, high, and medium priority. The most critical group includes Enterobacteriaceae, which includes Klebsiella and E. coli. Those pathogens can cause severe and often deadly bloodstream infections. Those bacteria have developed resistance to third generation cephalosporins and carbapenems, which are the best available antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The second category tier includes Staphylococcus aureus, Helicobacter pylori, fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter, and fluoroquinolone-resistant Salmonella. The third tier includes fluoroquinolone-resistant Shigella bacteria. All of those bacteria are familiar to those in the food safety industry.

WHO hopes that this list will spur governments to advance policies that incentive basic science and advanced R&D by publicly funded agencies such as the FDA and CDC, and by the private sector. Professor Evalina Tacconelli, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen said, “new antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world. Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact patient care.”

WHO ended its news release by stating that while more research and development is vital, it can’t solve the problem alone. We must prevent infections by these pathogenic bacteria, and use antibiotics in both humans and animals appropriately. And when new antibiotics are developed, they must be used rationally and not overprescribed.

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