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Drug-Resistant Bacteria Could Outpace New Medicines In Development, WHO Says

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There are too few new antibiotics in the world to fight the threat of drug-resistant infections, a report by the World Health Organization states. In addition, it’s likely that the speed of the evolving resistance will outpace the development of necessary medicines.

As of this May, there are 51 antibiotics and 11 biologicals, or medical products made from natural sources, being developed, CNN reports. Peter Beyer, an author on the report and senior adviser to the WHO’s Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products, wrote,

The idea is that biologicals could replace use of antibiotics, which could help in overcoming the resistance problem.

This seems like a large number that should be enough, but it’s not nearly enough. Only 33 of the antibiotics target priority pathogens. The WHO published a list of what they call “priority pathogens” or 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest danger.

Among these is a drug-resistant tuberculosis, which can kill up to 250,000 people worldwide every year. There are other multi-drug resistant bacteria and viruses that cause infections in hospitals, nursing homes and patients relying on ventilators or catheters for their care.

Of the 33 potential drugs to treat these priority pathogens, only eight are new treatments. The other 25 are variations of existing antibiotics, and will only serve as short-term solutions since scientists expect the bacteria to quickly adapt and develop resistance to them, according to the WHO.

Beyer said, “It is difficult to speculate why companies develop specific new medicines. But in general many new treatments do not necessarily constitute advances over existing treatments.”

There are too few oral antibiotics being developed, too. These are needed “to target the critical priority pathogens (and) be accessible in low- and middle-income countries,” Beyer stated.

The WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative have started the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership in order to address the growing problem. The agency is likewise working to improve infection prevention and control, while making changes to guidelines for the responsible use of antibiotics.


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