WHO Lists Antibiotic Development Priorities

The high- and medium priority categories contain drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhea and food poisoning triggered by salmonella, Kieny says.

According to the global health body, the list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.

Bacteria can develop drug resistance when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics. Many belong to a class called gram-negative bacteria which have evolved to fight off multiple types of antibiotics.

Governments need to invest in research and development (R&D) if new drugs are to be found in time, because market forces can not be relied upon to boost the funds needed to fight the bugs, it said.

"Today, just when resistance to antibiotics is reaching alarming proportions, the pipeline is practically dry", she said. "It's not meant to scare people about new 'superbugs, '" WHO's Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of Health Systems and Innovation, told reporters during a press briefing.

The WHO hopes that by targeting specific pathogens for which treatments are urgently needed, they can move the needle. "Words on a piece of paper from high level meetings aren't going to get us the antibiotics we need-governments should stop talking and start acting on their commitments". In return, those companies would have to ensure that the new antibiotic is available when necessary but not overused. Mr Hermann Gröhe, Federal Minister of Health, Germany says "We need effective antibiotics for our health systems". Most of the pathogens are among the almost two dozen antibiotic-resistant microbes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a 2013 report could cause potentially catastrophic consequences if the United States didn't act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

The list was developed in collaboration with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen, Germany, using a multi-criteria decision analysis technique vetted by a group of worldwide experts.

The discovery is considered an important breakthrough because it will allow the development of drugs that prevent superbugs from using a "masking function" which effectively hides them from medication. Developing antibiotics to treat highly resistant bacterial infections is especially challenging because only a small number of patients contract these infections and meet the requirements to participate in traditional clinical trials. And the compounds that are in development to treat these infections are at least 10 to 15 years away. "To address resistance, there must also be better prevention of infections and appropriate use of existing antibiotics in humans and animals, as well as rational use of any new antibiotics that are developed in future", wrote the agency. He also called for continued funding of government-driven antibiotic development efforts-such as those led by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority-and further incentives for private research, including tax credits.

  • Joanne Flowers