The world today is faced with a new problem of lack of new antibiotics to combat the menacing threat of antimicrobial resistance that is quite alarming.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, in a statement.
Currently, there seems no long-term solution in sight as most of the drugs in the clinical pipeline are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics, according to a WHO report, Antibacterial Agents in Clinical Development.
The report, an analysis of the antibacterial clinical development pipeline, which was launched on Wednesday states that the present solutions are only short-term,.
The report found very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections identified by WHO as posing the greatest threat to health, including drug-resistant tuberculosis which kills around 250 000 people each year.
“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,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
The WHO has also identified 12 classes of priority pathogens – some of them causing common infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections. These infections are increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics and urgently in need of new treatments, it states.
The report has identified 51 new antibiotics and biologicals in clinical development to treat priority antibiotic-resistant pathogens, as well as tuberculosis and the sometimes deadly diarrhoeal infection Clostridium difficile. Among all these candidate medicines, however, only eight are classed by WHO as innovative treatments that will add value to the current antibiotic treatment arsenal, according to the statement.
The report also points out that there is a serious lack of treatment options for multidrug- and extensively drug-resistant M. tuberculosis and gram-negative pathogens, including Acinetobacter and Enterobacteriaceae (such as Klebsiella and E.coli) which can cause deadly infections that pose a threat in hospitals and nursing homes.
Also, there are very few oral antibiotics in the pipeline.
“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 defence,” Dr Suzanne Hill said. Hill is director of the Department of Essential Medicines at WHO.
To counter this threat, WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) set up the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (known as GARDP).
“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,” says Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme.
“If we are to end tuberculosis, more than $800 million per year is urgently needed to fund research for new antituberculosis medicines,” Raviglione added.
New treatments alone, however, will not be sufficient to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance, according to WHO.